Atlanta Falcons vs. Patriots: Week 7 staff predictions

HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 05: Julio Jones (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 05: Julio Jones (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /
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Writer: Erik Sandelin

Game: Atlanta Falcons (3-2) at New England Patriots (4-2)

Breakdown: I hate to call this a make-or-break game for the Falcons, but it certainly has the feel of one, doesn’t it? On the one hand, if they lose, they’re still 3 – 3 with ten games left to go in the season. Plenty of time to go on a run and finish with at least nine or ten wins and make the playoffs. Perhaps even win more than ten games and claim the division. Keep in mind, too, that they have yet to play any division opponents, with their first one not happening until November 5 at Carolina. Should Atlanta win this one, though, it would be a huge confidence boost that could carry them back to the Super Bowl. After disappointing losses to the Bills and Dolphins, beating the defending Super Bowl champions in their own house on national television would go a long, LONG way to exorcising those “28-3” demons.

Health could be a big factor in this game. Julio Jones, Vic Beasley, Ryan Schraeder, and Ricardo Allen all came back last week. This week should see the return of Mohammed Sanu and Courtney Upshaw. The Patriots, on the other hand, will likely be without cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe, as well as linebacker Elandon Roberts. Even when healthy, the Patriots defense has been a sieve, giving up 42 points to Kansas City, 20 to New Orleans, 33 to Houston, and 33 to Carolina.They should have given up 26 to Tampa Bay if not for the nightmare that is the Bucs’ kicking game, and they gave up a quick 14 to the Jets before finally clamping down. If there was a night for Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, & Co. to go off, this could be it.

The Patriots, of course, have a great offense, too. The one weak spot would appear to be the offensive line. Left tackle Nate Solder, in particualr, has not played up to his ability level thus far this year. Guard Shaq Mason has been limited in practice this week. As I mentioned above, Beasley and Upshaw are back from injuries and the Falcons added former Seahawk and Bronco defensive tackle to the roster, so this could be a good formula to stuffing the run and getting pressure on Brady.

I should note that I live in Maine and listen to a lot of New England sports radio. I have heard hosts from both Boston’s WEEI and Portland’s (ME) WJJB voice their concerns regarding the New England’s ability to win this game. The swag that typically comes with the Patriots doesn’t seem to be present this year. They’re well aware that if teams like the Chiefs, Texans, and Panthers – not normally known as offensive powerhouses – can light them up, then it’s scary to think about what the Falcons could do.

I think it comes down to psyche for the Falcons. If their recent inability to hold on to leads isn’t in the back of their heads, I think they walk in to Foxboro and pull the upset. However, if the ghost of Super Bowl 51 still haunts them and has only grown stronger thanks to the Miami game, then they’ll lose their third straight. Either way, I think this one’s a barnburner.

Oh, by the way, did I mention I’ll be attending this game in person? (insert huge smiley face here)

Prediction: Atlanta 37, New England 30