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Patriots vs. Falcons preview: New England is looking for a fifth straight win on Thursday Night

Related: NFL playoff picture: Patriots keep climbing up the AFC standings

Atlanta Falcons v Miami Dolphins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The New England Patriots have won four straight games but they need to flip the page quickly in order to make it five in a row: the Patriots will travel to Atlanta to take on the Falcons on Thursday Night Football.

Bill Belichick’s team is the obvious favorite for the game. Not only do the Patriots have a 6-4 record compared to the Falcons’ 4-5, they also are coming off a 45-7 win over the Cleveland Browns whereas Atlanta was blown out 43-3 by the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday. Accordingly, New England listed as 7-point favorites by DraftKings Sportsbook.

With all that being said, let’s take a closer look at the Patriots’ Week 11 opponent.

Offense

Points scored: 19.8/game (25th)

Yards gained: 2,918 (25th)

Passing offense: 219-for-331, 2,172 yards, 15 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 0.045 EPA (21st)

Rushing offense: 214 carries, 746 yards, 4 touchdowns, -0.219 (30th)

Led by former league MVP Matt Ryan, the Falcons offense has had a tough time consistently moving the ball or reaching the end zone this season. Regardless of the mode of attack, the unit is ranked among the least efficient in the game across the board.

Defense

Points against: 29.2/game (31st)

Yards given up: 3,315 (22nd)

Passing defense: 217-for-314, 2,216 yards, 19 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, 0.227 EPA (29th)

Rushing defense: 263 carries, 1,099 yards, 10 touchdowns, -0.134 EPA (7th)

While Atlanta’s offense has been a disappointment this season, the defense has been even worse. Ranking among the worst teams in the league in stopping opponents from putting up points or moving the ball through the air, the group has struggled all year long. If there is one positive, though, it is its ability to stop the run — but even that can only get you so far.

Week 1 vs. Philadelphia Eagles: L 32-6

Week 2 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: L 48-25

Week 3 at New York Giants: W 17-14

Week 4 vs. Washington Football Team: L 34-30

Week 5 vs. New York Jets: W 27-20

Week 6: Bye

Week 7 at Miami Dolphins: W 30-28

Week 8 vs. Carolina Panthers: L 19-13

Week 9 at New Orleans Saints: W 27-25

Week 10 at Dallas Cowboys: L 43-3

The Falcons opened the season with back-to-back losses in blowout fashion, but they rebounded in Week 3 by defeating the Giants on the road. That win was not necessarily a sign of things to come, however. Atlanta lost at home against Washington before back-to-back wins versus two clubs from the AFC East that were followed by a close loss to the Panthers (despite Carolina losing starting QB Sam Darnold along the way).

While the Falcons briefly found their way into the NFC playoff picture following their 27-25 victory over the Jameis Winston-less Saints, the blowout loss to the Cowboys in Week 10 dropped them below .500 and out of the postseason conversation again.

Offense

QB Matt Ryan; RB Mike Davis; WR Tajee Sharpe, WR Russell Gage; TE Kyle Pitts*, TE Hayden Hurst; LT Jake Matthews, LG Jalen Mayfield*, C Matt Hennessy, RG Chris Lindstrom, RT Kaleb McGary

*rookie

Without number one wide receiver Calvin Ridley and dangerous jack-of-all-trades Cordarrelle Patterson, who is expected to miss Thursday’s game due to an ankle injury, the Falcons offense does not feature many big names. One does stand out, however: Kyle Pitts, the fourth overall selection of this year’s draft. Already one of the better receiving tight ends in football, Pitts is a matchup nightmare and Matt Ryan’s favorite target.

Defense

DT Grady Jarrett, DT Tyeler Davison; OLB Adetokunbo Ogundeji*, ILB Deion Jones, ILB Foyesade Oluokun, OLB Dante Fowler; CB A.J. Terrell, CB Fabian Moreau, CB Avery Williams*; SS Erik Harris, FS Duron Harmon

*rookies

Atlanta’s defense is similar to the offense in that there are not a lot of household names. That said the group features some talented players — led by defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and linebacker Deion Jones. One name in particular might stand out from a Patriots perspective, though: Duron Harmon played for the Patriots between 2013 and 2019, and helped the team win three Super Bowls along the way.

Specialists

K Younghoe Koo, P Dustin Colquitt, LS Josh Harris; KR Cordarrelle Patterson, PR Avery Williams*

*rookie

The biggest special teams question for the Falcons heading into this week’s game is this: Who will return kickoffs if Cordarrelle Patterson is indeed unable to play? Avery Williams, who also is the team’s leading punt returner appears to be the next man up after already returning five kickoffs earlier this season. The difference between him and Patterson is obvious, though, with the rookie averaging only 12.6 yards per kickoff return compared to Patterson’s 23.7.

QB Matt Ryan: Even in Year 14, Matt Ryan is still a very good quarterback capable of stressing defenses. So far this year, he has completed 67.7 percent of his passes for 2,274 yards as well as 15 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. The interception number is one the Patriots will likely also look at. After all, the veteran has thrown five of them in the last four games.

TE Kyle Pitts: If not for the Patriots’ Mac Jones and Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, Pitts would likely be the frontrunner for Offensive Rookie of the Year honors this season. The numbers say it all: the fourth overall selection of this year’s draft is leading the team in receptions (40) and yards (606) and has also scored a touchdown. He has quickly turned into Atlanta’s number one receiving weapon and a go-to guy for Matt Ryan.

DT Grady Jarrett: Atlanta’s pass rush has been quiet so far this season, and star defensive tackle Grady Jarrett has also been able to contribute only one to the team’s 11 sacks. However, that does not mean Jarrett is not still a high-quality player: he leads the Falcons with 23 total quarterback disruptions and is also the leader of a stout run defense.

K Younghoe Koo: The Falcons’ kicker is one of the most consistent players on a roster with many up-and-down performers. He has made 15 of 16 field goal attempts so far this season as well as all 17 of his extra points. The short-time Patriot, who spent 10 days on the organization’s practice squad in 2019, is playing on a Pro Bowl level and therefore certainly a player to watch.

Head coach: Arthur Smith

Coordinators: Dave Ragone (offense), Dean Pees (defense), Marquice Williams (special teams)

After 10 seasons with the Tennessee Titans — including the final two as the team’s offensive coordinator — Arthur Smith joined the Falcons as their head coach earlier this year. The 39-year-old surrounded himself with a first-time offensive coordinator in Dave Ragone and one of the most experienced defensive play-callers in the NFL: long-time Patriots coordinator Dean Pees returned to the game one year after announcing his retirement.

The Patriots and Falcons have met 15 times so far, with one of the meetings coming in the playoffs:

  • Patriots: 9 wins (including 1 playoff win)
  • Falcons: 6 wins

Given that they are playing in two different conferences, New England and Atlanta have not met often over the years. That said, one of their meetings was an all-time classic: Super Bowl 51 — a game that saw the Tom Brady-led Patriots come back from a 28-3 deficit in the late third quarter to win 34-28 in overtime.