When last season ended, the Raiders and Falcons had something in common. Both teams were considered NFL bottom feeders, having just completed 4-12 seasons. Still reeling from the Michael Vick saga, the Falcons were thought to be years away from relevance. But, in the league that encourages absolute parity, things can change quickly.
Led by rookie QB Matt Ryan, the Falcons have shocked the NFL by starting 4-3. They’re still a long shot to make the playoffs (mainly due to being in the wrong division), but there is renewed hope. Atlanta has an impressive (albeit young) offense. As mentioned, Matt Ryan is the leader at QB. Michael Turner, one of the leagues’ most talented backs, powers a fantastic running game. They’re averaging an eye-popping 4.8 yards per carry. The receiving corps isn’t the best in the league, but Roddy White is a standout. He already has 43 catches (along with 5 TD’s). By comparison, the Raiders top receiver is Zach Miller with 20 catches (and 1 TD). All in all, the Falcons are a balanced, rapidly improving offense.
It’s a different story on defense. They rank in the bottom 3rd of the league in yards allowed (pass and run defense are equally bad). But, there’s no advantage for the Raiders, as Oakland is actually ranked slightly lower than Atlanta (only by 1 yard per game). The Falcons D only gives up 22 points per game. This is noteworthy because the Raiders give up 3.3 more points per game, despite giving up essentially the same yardage.
We know all the ills of our Raiders. On offense, the passing game continues to lack punch. The yardage totals are skewed as the bigger totals have come in blowouts (example, last week’s 228 yards in a 19-point loss at Baltimore). The running game hasn’t been healthy all year. The defense can’t stop the run, so the pass D suffers because they’re always in man-to-man coverage. Times are rough when the kicking game is the team’s highlight.
Despite what appears to be imbalance between the teams, this weekend’s game should be a good one. The Raiders seem to find an extra level at home. Atlanta’s lack of a second receiver strongly benefits the Raiders, as Nnamdi Asomugha will slow Roddy White. If the Raiders can keep the Falcon running game somewhat in check, they can spring the upset.
My prediction – Raiders 24, Falcons 21.