The NFL world finally got an extended look at future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning in Week 1 and for the most part, people liked what they saw. At the same time, "Matty Ice" looked rather impressive in his own right after he picked apart an undermanned Kansas City Chiefs defense. Something needs to give in Week 2, but what?
After putting on an offensive show against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Atlanta Falcons opened as -4 or -3.5-favorites against the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football. Early action has come in on the Broncos and the line now sits somewhere between -3 and -3.5. You can grab the Broncos at +3 even-money or pay 10 cents more juice for the hook. As the week unfolds, I expect that value to disappear on Denver. I would also make this a play at +3, but for the current price, I'm not going to pass up the +3.5 (odds courtesy of SBRforum).
The Atlanta Falcons or Green Bay Packers?
When the Falcons got thumped by Aaron Rodgers in the playoffs a couple years ago, they changed their run-first philosophy and drafted Julio Jones. The plan backfired and the downfield approach was riddled with problems last season.
Enter Dirk Koetter.
Now that Matt Ryan has some more experience in this pass-first system, Koetter has been able to take it to next level. Their offense looked every bit as impressive as advertised in Week 1. The KC defense had a hard time figuring out who to pay extra attention to and what to do with Jones. The entire set of passing options was moved around in various ways and kept the Chiefs off-balance for most of the day.
I don't expect them to have nearly the same kind of success against a Denver defense that isn't as depleted as KC's.
Yes, D.J. Williams is out with a suspension, but they have a dynamic duo in Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller. The Falcons O-line isn't the most athletic bunch, and Ryan doesn't have the best track record when pressure is in his face. According to Football Outsiders, last year Ryan was the 18th best QB facing pressure and even worse when you compared it to when he wasn't facing pressure.
Ty Warren is out with a triceps injury, but the Broncos like what they have in rookie Derek Wolfe. Michael Turner's role is in transition so unless the Falcons throw a serious curve ball at us, the run game shouldn't be a primary focus.
The other reason that I like this matchup for the Broncos defense is what they have going on in their secondary.
Tracy Porter made a big statement in Week 1 and forms a nice 1-2 punch with Champ Bailey. An even more interesting matchup could be undrafted Chris Harris in the nickel package against Harry Douglas. Over the middle, Wesley Woodyard is filling in nicely for Williams and should be an asset in pass coverage when he'll have to contend with various formations (and Tony Gonzalez).
Injuries, Injuries, Injuries
It didn't take long until we had one of the most damaging injuries of the season when Atlanta's best cornerback Brent Grimes went down for the year. This opens up a great opportunity for Peyton Manning on prime-time television. Dunta Robinson and Asante Samuel have their strengths, but both are soft off-coverage corners.
Christopher Owens is expected to take the third spot in nickel packages, but look for Manning to hit Stokley, Tamme, and Dreessen all day. After you consider how William Moore and Thomas DeCoud are not the most impressive safeties in coverage, you are left with a secondary that suddenly has a lot of questions attached to it.
The Broncos run a lot of base two tight-end sets, which will put a lot of pressure on this Falcons defense. They'll have to hope the front four can generate pressure on their own, as they try to figure out what's coming at them next. Demaryius Thomas had a big day in Week 1, and don't be surprised if it's Eric Decker this week. Peyton is no stranger to the bright lights, so I like him in this spot even if they get behind early.
Also, the run game is average at best, with the likes of Willis McGahee in the backfield, but Manning can elevate this into a high efficiency ground game simply with his ability to call the right play at the right moment. We all saw how good he was once John Fox let Peyton Manning be Peyton Manning from the second quarter on.
Overall I still expect Atlanta to get its points, but the Broncos have the kind of secondary that can take advantage of some pass-rush situations and get Ryan off his game.
This is such a pass-happy league, and these teams are no exceptions. Losing your best cornerback is not an ideal situation when you have a guy like Peyton Manning coming to town. If Brent Grimes was healthy, I might reconsider this pick, but since he's out, I like the value on the dog here—especially with the extra half point.
NFL Pick: DEN +3.5.