Our Falcons are officially back in the playoff conversation, trailing the Vikings by only a half-game for the final playoff spot in the NFC. They enter Sunday’s game on a high after three straight wins, and most recently, a pummeling of the first place Washington Redskins on their home field. The opponent, the Cleveland Browns, come into this one on the opposite end of the spectrum, losers of four straight, most of which were not very close.
The Browns defense that was carrying this team has seen a monumental drop-off since the first three weeks. Outside of the 9 points they allowed to a putrid Baltimore offense, Cleveland is allowing 35.8 points per game over the last six weeks. That includes giving up 45 points to perhaps the worst offense in the NFL in Oakland.
It’s happened in a multitude of ways too. The Browns have been crushed on the ground by the likes of Melvin Gordon, James Conner, and Kareem Hunt as well as torched through the air. There was a lot of hype surrounding this defense coming into the year but it has become evident they are still quite a bit away from being a top-10 defense. Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward are incredible pieces, but this is a reminder football is a team sport, and the athletes at the other positions just are not there.
That sets up for the Falcons nicely. Matt Ryan has been a machine all season, and the offense is clicking on all cylinders. For the first time since week 2, we saw Atlanta’s offensive line dominate, which allowed Tevin Coleman and Ito Smith to go crazy. If that happens again, which seems more likely than not, Atlanta cannot be stopped. Matt Ryan is too good in play-action, and there is no way the Cleveland secondary can hang with the Falcons’ receivers if they have to worry about the run too.
Even on Falcons worst day offensively, the Browns are going to have to put up close to thirty points to find themselves a winner in this one. That was a feat that used to be impossible for this group, but it has happened once this season (against Oakland) and will probably happen a few more times this year with Baker Mayfield under center. If there’s a defense it’s most likely to happen against, it’s probably Atlanta’s.
Yes, the Falcons have been much improved the last two weeks on defense. The addition of Grady Jarrett back into the lineup has made all the difference in the world against the run and helped the pass rush tremendously. It is also quite noticeable how much better some of the backups are now fitting into their new roles.
However, it is not like the Falcons were facing world beaters. The Giants make any intelligent football fan cringe when they have the ball. The Redskins, while off to a nice start, don’t have many players that strike fear into an opposing defense. The Browns aren’t much to write home about either, but they are much more explosive in the passing game than both of the aforementioned teams.
In his first game under offensive coordinator, Freddie Kitchens, Mayfield thrived, tossing for almost 300 yards and a couple of touchdowns. It was noticeable how Kitchens utilized Duke Johnson heavily in the passing game as well. That’s something he is going to stick to on Sunday again. The Falcons have been miserable against pass-catching backs, and I still don’t believe that problem is completely fixed, not until Deion Jones is back in the lineup (by the way did you hear he was back practice yesterday? #happy).
The Browns also have a tremendous slot-receiver in Jarvis Landry. Landry gave the Falcons fits last year when he played on the Dolphins, and that was with a healthy Falcons defense. He’s the type of receiver that feasts in the middle of the field, which is exactly where the Falcons weak point is. Landry’s season-high for receiving yard is 103. I’m going to go out on a limb and say he crushes that this Sunday.
If you’re a betting man, I love the over in this one set at 50.5. The Falcons offense is really beginning to hit its stride, and I expect it to become tough for any team to hold them under 30, especially the Cleveland Browns. On the other hand, Atlanta’s defense is still going to take a few bumps on the chin as the season continues. Baker Mayfield puts together his best performance of the season, highlighted by his connection with Jarvis Landry, but at the end of the day, the Falcons are way too much for the Browns to handle at this point in the season.
Falcons 41, Browns 24