Not the game you want to bet on, that's the first thing that comes to mind when I analyze this game.
Far too many unknowns which could have a big impact. Will Asante Samuel and Roddy White be hindered by their injuries? Will Gronk or Amendola return from theirs? Will the Patriots unveil the rookie speedster Josh Boyce? Will Talib be able to contain Jones?
I like to go by track records. The Patriots have some solid track records during the BB and Brady era, they almost always win at home, they hardly ever lose two games in a row. Unfortunately, the Atlanta Falcons under the guidance of HC Smith and QB Ryan, have a similar track record.
Smith and Ryan have won 12 of their last 13 games at home. They have won 22 out of 25 games following a loss. The Falcons are playing at home, after a loss...
Smith told the media Wednesday his formula for being relevant in the NFL, and it begins with winning home games and avoiding consecutive losses: "The first step is to win at home. We know we don’t want to lose back-to-back games. You know you want to control your home field. I think the guys have a very good understanding of that."
Making the game even harder to judge, is that it very well could hinge on the play of rookies. Rookie cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford will be facing off against rookie receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins. The unpredictability of who is going to run where and do what may be at an all time high in this game, Brady must be thrilled.
Even trying to judge the Patriots front seven versus the Falcons front five (seven+ including TE/RBs) is very difficult, because the Patriots have played the last three games against mobile QBs, so there was a definite contain element to their game-plan, and how their front seven attacked.
Ryan doesn't pose that threat, so the Patriots will definitely be attacking this Offense in ways we have not seen this season. The best we can do is guess at how much improved their pass rush may be when they are facing a QB that they don't have to worry about exploding downfield on a long run.
The only thing for certain is that the Falcons are a step above any competition the Patriots have faced yet this season, despite what their record may suggest. So it will be a good game to watch, and an even better measuring stick of how they are coming along.
Keys to the Falcons winning this game: The Falcons will need to establish the run and be effective with their short screens (something they are well practiced at)... that in turn will keep the Patriots from letting the dogs loose on Ryan, and allow Ryan to take his shots downfield where Jones can out jump and out run just about anyone. On Defense their rookie Corners will need to play exceptionally well, miscues against Brady could be very costly otherwise.
Keys to the Patriots winning this game: The Patriots' defense can't allow the Falcons to get the running game on track, and they have to get pressure on Ryan consistently. On offense the O-line needs to keep Osi U in check, forcing them to bring in extra defenders to rush Brady ... this in turn will lead to more one on one opportunities between the receivers and those rookie corners... and that in turn should lead to points.