Another fall weekend (unless you live in Arizona, crazy me) means another Falcons preview! It's wild to think that we are already a little over a quarter of the way through the NFL season, and on top of that, the Falcons are over five hundred! On Sunday, they will have the opportunity to go two games over five hundred for the first time since 2017.
Quick news bit from the week. Atlanta traded for WR Van Jefferson and a 2025 7th-round pick in exchange for a 2025 6th-round pick. This is a high reward-low risk type of trade for Atlanta; only giving up a 6th-round draft pick for a receiver with deep-threat abilities is a win, in my book. This also shows that the Falcons want to bolster the deep/interminable passing game. Jefferson has had a pretty quiet 2023 campaign (only eight receptions for 108 yards); however, he has had some success in the last two seasons, putting up over 1,100 receiving yards and nine receiving touchdowns. Seeing how Arthur Smith implements him in the offense will be interesting. We won't see much of him on Sunday, but hopefully, we can see him on the field for a couple of series.
(First look at Jefferson in a Falcons uniform.)
Moving onto the Falcon's opponent this Sunday, the Washington Commanders. The Commanders are on a bit of a struggle bus, as they have dropped their last three games after winning their first two. Washington played a very close game back in week four against the Phildealpea Eagles, which they took to overtime, but ended up losing on a field goal by Philly. Ron Rivera's team currently holds a -51 point differential, scoring 109 points (16th in the league) and giving up 160 points (31st in the league) this season. This Commanders team does feature talent; veteran WR Terry McLaurin has put up three straight 1,000-receiving seasons and has been one of the better WRs in the league during that time frame. On the defensive side, Chase Young(who I'll get into a bit later) is proving that he is an elite pass rusher. After missing the first game of the season from an injury that occurred last year, Young is starting to make his presence known again on the Washington defense.
The big headline going into the game will be the battle between sophomore quarterbacks Sam Howell and Desmond Ridder. Both QBs made their debut last year; Howell only played in one game compared to Ridder's four. It's been a pretty even battle so far; Howell has thrown for 1,158 yards, seven touchdowns, and seven interceptions in his career. At the same time, Ridder has thrown for 1781 yards, six touchdowns, and three interceptions in his NFL tenure. Sunday could bring a little bragging rights to whomever can outperform their counterpart.
Date: Sunday, October 15th
Start Time: 1pmET/10amPT
Location: Atlanta, Georiga
Stadium: Mercedes-Benz Stadium
TV Info: CBS (Matt Ryan will be a color announcer for the game!)
Key Players- Offense
Jonnu Smith- Falcons TE
Coming over from New England in the offseason, Jonnu Smith has started to make his name known in Atlanta. Smith currently leads the Falcons in receiving yards with 246 yards, also 4th in the NFL amongst tight ends. Smith is also 3rd in the league amongst TE's in "yards after catch" with 124. The Falcons newcomer has had excellent back-to-back games, where he caught all six of his passes for 95 yards and caught six more passes last week for 67 yards. Be on the lookout for #81 in black on Sunday, as he is going up against a Washington defense that ranks 21st in passing yards against.
Terry McLaurin- Commanders WR
McLaurin is too much of a deep threat not to be mentioned twice. Again, with three straight 1,000-yard seasons and being made to his first pro-bowl last year, "Scary Terry" could threaten the Falcon's defense. In addition, the Commanders are much more of a passing team (6th in passing attempts) than a rushing team (31st in rushing attempts); they're going to want to feed their top guy, except to see a lot of AJ Terell matchup against McLaurin.
Key Players- Defense
The Falcons Defensive Line
I've yet to mention a Falcons linebacker; don't worry, we will get there! Until then, the focus is on the Atlanta pass rush. After being unable to record a sack last week, the Falcons are currently tied for last in the NFL in sacks with five. First, it's impressive that the Falcons' defense is 8th in yards against, with the lack of pressure they have accumulated. Secondly, Sam Howell has been sacked more than any other QB in the league at 29. This could be a huge week for Jarret, Campbell, and Onyemata; if ATL can't get the QB this week, could there be changes in the future?
Chase Young- Commanders DL
Getting more in-depth on Young. The second overall pick in the 2020 draft has already recorded three sacks in four games this season. Young is also part of a Washington D-line that ranks 8th in sacks at 16. The Commanders' pass rushers are arguably the strongest part of their team; Montez Sweat is also credited for the success of the Commanders' pass rush, as he sits with 4.5 sacks on the season. After not allowing a sack last week, the Falcons' O-line will be under a little more "pressure" if they want to keep Ridder off the ground.
Points Spread: WAS +2.5 (-110) | ATL -2.5 (-110)
Moneyline: WAS (+110) | ATL (-130)
Over/Under: O 42.5 (-106) | U 42.5 (-114)
Lines via FanDuel as of Friday, October 13th
Atlanta is blessed with another home game this week, and the Dirty Birds are currently 3-0 at home this year. Coming off a walk-win last week, where Ridder proved all the haters wrong, Ridder could have another big game versus a Commanders defense that has seen its struggles. Again, Washington ranks 21st in defensive passing yards and 29th in passing touchdowns given up. The key will be keeping Ridder protected; as mentioned above, Washington has a dangerous pass rush. But how about a little more Ridder?
Furthermore, the RB duo of Robinson and Allgeier could have big games themselves, as Washington is 24th in rushing yards against. We saw Allgeier take more carries than Bijan, and I do feel that's an important key because Bijan also takes snaps at WR- and giving him rest is a necessity. Now, the addition of Jefferson could impact that, but we will have to wait and see how he is used.
To wrap up, Atlanta is the favorite going into the game, and I did last week pick ATL to lose after the offense had some pretty abysmal performance. However, I really like the Dirty Birds this week. The defense was solid on third down, and the secondary is proving to be one of the best in the NFC. Once the defense can record sacks, they have the opportunity to carry ATL to the playoffs. If Ridder can build off his stellar performance against Houston and the runningbacks can run like wild horses, the Falcons should be able to improve to 4-2.
Prediction: ATL- 32, WAS- 17
(Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)