This game is the game that has the biggest implications for the playoffs as any this week…perhaps with the exception of the Bucs-Giants game.
What we’re looking at here are two teams with just the right mix of veterans and younger players. They both should easily make the playoffs if not outright win their respective divisions.
Superstar Peyton Manning leads an offense that is going to be capable no matter what. He looked sharp in his debut and he’ll only improve as he lifts all boats around him. He’ll need to if his Denver Broncos are going to win at one of the hardest places to actually steal a road game – the Georgia Dome.
That brings us to another point…Manning’s history with the Georgia Dome goes back to when he won the SEC Championship Game. His ability to communicate in the loud environment are going to be key, so expect even more than the usual pre-snap gyrations from him. He hasn’t been one to favor a particular receiver, so the Falcons’ defense has to be ready for anything. There’s nothing to really hang their hat on specifically.
Perhaps the more dynamic part of the game, ironically enough, will actually be when the Falcons’ offense and QB Matt Ryan have the field. Roddy White gets a hundred grabs a season and Julio Jones is the dynamic threat the Falcons envisioned when they traded up for him in the draft last year.
TE Tony Gonzalez is Manning’s over-35 counterpart star for the Falcons. He’ll be a Fall of Famer and may actually start to slow down someday but I haven’t seen that yet. RB Michael Turner is, however, and I expect to see more of RB Jacquizz Rodgers if he can actually show some game burst. Turner has a lot of wear on him at this point and can’t keep up the pace forever.
The offensive line is the more shaky part, and the Broncos’ defense can rush the passer from either side. Elvis Dumervil attacks from the weak side while 2011 DROY rushes from the strong. They’re as good a duo now as any in the NFL, supplanting the Robert Mathis/Dwight Freeney threat in Indianapolis. I think Miller can have a big night in this one.
In order for Matt Ryan to get time to throw, they’ll have to run the ball to slow down the pass rush. If they can do that, they can put in the play-action and become nearly impossible to defend. That’s a given. Failing that, the only other way to slow down the rush is with draws and screens and 5-yard hitch routes which would take away Julio Jones for the most part.
In the end, I think this Falcons offense still has enough with Michael Turner to be as balanced as they need to be to come out with the win, but Denver might wind up being the more dangerous team at the end of the year over in the AFC.