The NFL season is finally upon us, the Braves are playoff-bound, and the Hawks are just around the corner. It’s like Christmas in September for us sports nuts, and I hope you are excited for it as much as I am. Here at SportsTalkATL, we will be breaking down the key matchups for each game of the season, as well as separate articles with bold predictions and game predictions every week.
To open the year, the Falcons have a challenging task as they travel to Minnesota to take on the Vikings. You know that place is going to be raucous with a wild fan base looking to return to the playoffs just like the Falcons. Minnesota has won the last three games in the series – with their last victory coming back in 2017 when Case Keenum was under center. That was a defensive battle, and we could see a similar result in week one, as the offenses attempt to find their groove to begin the year.
Kirk Cousins vs. Good Teams
The narrative surrounding Kirk Cousins is well known. He has not been able to get the job done when it matters most and against winning teams. He’s 6-13 in primetime games, 5-25 versus opponents with winning records and was 1-6 against such teams in 2018.
Now, with this being week one, the Falcons aren’t yet a winning team, but they certainly have the makeup of one. This defense should look a lot like the one in 2017 that finished in the top-ten in yards allowed. It’s going to be a difficult task for Cousins to maneuver, and while I expect the Falcons to have trouble at times moving the football because of their offensive line, Matt Ryan is going to score some points in this one. Can Kirk Cousins match him blow for blow?
Atlanta’s Offensive Line vs. Minnesota’s Defensive Line
The Falcons offensive line is the most significant question mark on the entire team heading into the season. This group was pummeled at times during the preseason and features a ton of new faces. Eventually, I think they will be a much better unit than they were a year ago, but it might take some time for them to gel and produce up to expectations. They won’t be receiving any breaks in week one as they face a daunting Minnesota Vikings defensive line.
The Vikings feature two Pro-Bowl defensive ends that could wreak havoc in this one. Jake Mathews should be able to hold his own on the left side, but even Pro-Bowl offensive tackles have difficulties with Danielle Hunter. The real matchup to watch will be Everson Griffen versus whoever starts at right tackle. On the Falcons’ official depth chart, they listed Matt Gano or Kaleb McGary as the starter. I’m assuming they will both get reps, especially since McGary has had only two weeks to prepare since returning from a heart procedure that sidelined him for a month. Whoever does the best job at keeping Matt Ryan clean will see the bulk of the action – plain and simple.
Julio Jones vs. Xavier Rhoades
Xavier Rhoades isn’t out there guarding Julio Jones one-on-one. If he were, Jones would have a field day. As always, the Vikings will have multiple sets of eyes on the Falcons star receiver, making sure he is not the one to beat them. However, every team does that, and few teams have success stopping Jones. Well, the Vikings were able to do it the last time these two teams faced off back in 2017, holding Jones to just two receptions for 24 yards.
There will be one significant difference in this game, though. Steve Sarkisian is no longer the offensive coordinator. Now, I’m not blaming Sark for Jones’ worst game of the season. Julio put up similar numbers with him as he did with every other offensive coordinator, but let’s see if Dirk Koetter has an answer for what the Vikings are going to do defensively against Jones. I don’t see any reason why Minnesota would alter much from the gameplan that worked to perfection two seasons ago.