Bob Donnan/USA Today Sports

Patriots vs. Falcons: 3 keys to the game, fun facts, prediction

Ryan Hannable
October 21, 2017 - 12:00 pm

Following meeting in Super Bowl LI, the start of the 2017 season hasn’t gone the way both the Patriots and Falcons had hoped.

The Patriots are 4-2, but haven’t looked like many Bill Belichick-led teams of the past. After having the No. 1 scoring defense in football last season, now it is 30th. Atlanta is 3-2, but have lost two straight. It was first in points per game last year, but now 12th this year.

With the Falcons losing two straight — both to AFC East teams — it is a huge game for them, as they surely do not want to lose three straight and fall even further behind in the NFC South. Then for the Patriots, they have already lost two games at home this year. New England hasn’t lost three home games in a single season since 2008.

This is a big game for both teams, but may be most important for the Falcons.

Falcons vs. Patriots
Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017
8:30 p.m., NBC
Patriots -3, over/under 56.5

3 keys to the game

Containing Julio Jones and Falcons passing game

With Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel, this might be the best receiving group the Patriots have faced all season. It’s made even worse considering the Patriots will be without Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe. It potentially could go into the game with three cornerbacks like last week against the Jets. Given Jones’ size, Johnson Bademosi appears the most likely player to be matched up with him with help over the top from a safety. Jones hasn’t been utilized as much as he should so far this season and the Falcons say they will look to get him more involved. This could be the week to do it. There’s no question the Patriots will give up a lot of yards through the air, they just need to limit the big plays or else it could be a very long night.

Get the running game going

Last week the Patriots ran the ball a little bit more, totaling 118 yards on the ground, but they need to do even more. Not only will establishing the run benefit the entire offense, it will help to protect Tom Brady. Atlanta is 13th against the run, but the Patriots should still look to do it. Mike Gillislee and Dion Lewis have shared carries, but it may be time to let Lewis loose. His season-high for carries came last week with 11, but if he got 15-20, he easily could get over 100 yards on the ground. The only question is perhaps the team could be monitoring his usage to ensure he’s fresh and healthy down the stretch and for the postseason. Nonetheless, the Patriots should look to run the ball more.

Play a full 60 minutes

This one will likely be close the entire way, so playing a complete game on both sides of the ball becomes even more important. The defense has done a decent job finishing games, although it hasn’t been easy the last two weeks with each of the last two wins needing a defensive stop. The biggest issue is on offense. In the fourth quarter, the Patriots have averaged 5.2 points per game, which is 18th in the NFL. In contrast, they are averaging 18.5 points in the first half, the best in the NFL. In the last three offensive possessions of games this year, the Patriots have punted 11 times out of 18 (61 percent) and have scored touchdowns only three times (17 percent). For as much as Belichick preaches 60 minutes, the offense certainly hasn’t done it through six games.

Fun facts

1. The Patriots have allowed every quarterback they have faced this year to have a 300-yard passing game (six). This comes after last season when they allowed just three.

2. The Falcons have had 15 red zone trips this season and Jones has just one target.

3. Danny Amendola is second in the NFL in first-down catches on third down with nine. Keenan Allen is first with 15.

4. In six games, Brady leads the NFL with seven passes for 40+ yards. He threw only eight last season.

5. If the Patriots allow over 400 yards from scrimmage, they would become just the third team in NFL history to do that in seven straight games.

Prediction 

Patriots 30, Falcons 28

There are a lot of things that point to the Falcons winning this game, but our gut says the Patriots will find a way to win. Atlanta hasn’t looked the same the last two games as it did to open the season and Matt Ryan has looked a little shaky when it comes to turning the ball over. If the Patriots defense can force a turnover or two, that could completely change things. It also feels like a game where Brady could put the team on his shoulders and do whatever it takes to win. We'll take the Patriots in a close one.

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