The Falcons and Patriots were one game away from meeting in the Super Bowl last season. Both teams opened this season with Super Bowl aspirations, although they have gotten off to very different starts. New England's offense has sputtered at times and the Patriots are just 22nd in the NFL in scoring. Still, New England has been able to prevail in close games and is 3-0.
A pair of close losses has the Falcons in an early hole. Atlanta is 1-2 with all three games being decided by a touchdown or less. Atlanta led in the third quarter in all three games, but had issues holding the lead. Miami outscored the Falcons, 17-3, to close out Week 3, while the Saints scored the final 10 points in their 23-17 win against Atlanta in the season opener.
Meet the Falcons
Even with Roddy White less than 100 percent to start the season, Ryan and the Falcons haven't had many issues throwing the ball. Atlanta is seventh in the NFL in passing yards with Julio Jones leading the NFL in receiving yards. The biggest issue for the Falcons early in the season has been stopping the pass.
The Falcons have allowed 296 passing yards per game, 25th in the NFL. Opposing teams are averaging 7.6 yards per attempt and have thrown for seven touchdowns. Quarterbacks are completing 65.6 percent of their passes against the Falcons. The problem, however, isn't yards. Atlanta allowed 365.6 yards per game last season, 24th in the NFL. The problem is points.
Despite giving up a lot of yards, the Falcons were fifth in the league, allowing 18.7 points per game. That number has jumped by almost a touchdown this season and the Falcons are 19th in the league allowing 24.7 PPG. There is a fine line in a bend-but-don't break defense, and right now, Atlanta is on the wrong side.
Meet the Patriots
A year after setting the league on fire offensively, the Patriots have struggled to equal that success. Without a number of key receivers from last season, New England has been forced to work new faces into new places and the process has been a slow one. The Patriots are 3-0 despite averaging 19.7 points per game, which is 15.1 points per game less than what they averaged last season.
Injuries have played a big role with Shane Vereen, Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski missing time. Gronkowski has been a limited participant in practice and could be a game-time decision for this week's game. His return should be a huge boost for the Patriots' passing game.
Local Takes: Atlanta
Jenna Thomas of The Falcoholic examined the cause behind Atlanta's offensive woes in the redzone:
The key difference between Atlanta and the other teams with a 50 percent red zone touchdown efficiency is, Atlanta has one of the better quarterbacks in the league in Matt Ryan, as well as All-Pro caliber talent in receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White, and tight end Tony Gonzalez. There's really very little excuse for a team with that level of talent being unable to consistently score touchdowns in the red zone.
Local Takes: New England
Greg Knopping of Pats Pulpit wrote the Patriots could get Danny Amendola back sooner rather than later:
The arrow is also pointing up for receiver Danny Amendola. According to the Boston Globe, Amendola is progressing "very well" in his recovery from a torn adductor longus in his groin.
This report adds even more momentum from Yahoo! Sports' Saturday report that Amendola could be ready for the Falcons:
Follow the Fun
Be sure to check out SB Nation's team blogs, The Falcoholic and Pats Pulpit, for more analysis and highlights from the game.
Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:
Seriously, though: I'm expecting a win this weekend. Not taking the Pats lightly, but I'm expecting one.— The Falcoholic (@TheFalcoholic) September 24, 2013
Top Dobson; Aaron Dobson's Rise http://t.co/UWnG5iXyvv— Greg Knopping (@patspulpit) September 23, 2013
@D. Orlando Ledbetter -- Falcons beat writer
#Falcons OC Dirk Koetter said,"It's essential that you score touchdowns. Our goal is to score 55 percent of touchdowns in the red zone."— D. Orlando Ledbetter (@AJCFalcons) September 24, 2013
@jeffphowe -- Patriots beat writer
Breaking down Rob Ninkovich's contract extension http://t.co/jBtpa1mjW3— Jeff Howe (@jeffphowe) September 24, 2013
From the Week 4 picks:
The Patriots opened as a 2-point favorite, according to Odds Shark. The total opened at 49 points.
New England will stay on the road, traveling to Cincinnati to face the Bengals.
The Falcons will play on Monday Night Football next week, taking on the New York Jets at home.