There isn't a more intriguing clash in Week 2 (with apologies to the NFC North battle taking place at Lambeau Field on Thursday night) than the Monday night game between the Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons.
Peyton Manning versus Matt Ryan. A revamped Denver offensive approach versus a new and improved Atlanta passing attack. A ridiculous slew of fantasy mainstays that will decide more than a few matchups on Monday night.
This is one of those must-watch games, and it just so happens to have the spotlight on Monday night. It doesn't get much better than this, folks. Let's break this baby down.
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Georgia
When: Monday, September 17 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Watch: ESPN, WatchESPN
Betting Line: Falcons (-3), according to Bovada.
Broncos Injury Report (via ESPN)
CB Chris Harris, Ankle, Questionable
DE Ty Warren, Triceps, Out (Injured Reserved)
Falcons Injury Report (via ESPN)
CB Brent Grimes, Achilles Tendon, Out for Season
What's At Stake?
A 2-0 start. An early place in the "elite NFL teams" conversation we will all be prematurely having after Week 2. A chance for Matt Ryan to prove he's ready to take the next step as a quarterback. A chance for Peyton Manning to remind us just how freaking amazing he is.
Fantasy Start 'Em, Sit' Em and Sleeper
Roll with Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez, Michael Turner, Peyton Manning, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and in deeper leagues, Jacob Tamme.
I would avoid the Denver running backs and defenses in this one.
As for a sleeper, I'm not sure there are many—the offensive weapons on each team are pretty well documented and widely owned for both teams. But one player to keep an eye on is Harry Douglas. While he's a bit down the line in the Falcons' passing game, if there is one player not listed above who might have a big night, he's the guy.
What They're Saying
The no-huddle offense looked potent against Pittsburgh. But if Denver strays too far away from the running game, they'll regret it, writes Jeff Legwold of The Denver Post:
Make [Manning] a pass-early, pass-often quarterback in an offense that can't run the ball when it wants to, and you're doing exactly what defensive coordinators want—nothing to worry about other than getting to Manning.
The Broncos have one offensive lineman—Ryan Clady—whose been named to a Pro Bowl in his career. They have their most consistent offensive lineman—Chris Kuper—out of the lineup for several more weeks as a fractured bone in his left forearm continues to heal.
They have enough depth concerns in the offensive front to have signed veteran center Dan Koppen, who turns 33 on Wednesday. That is not the profile of a team that can sufficiently protect its quarterback if the pass-attempt totals get too far north of 35 on a consistent basis.
Broncos Player to Watch: Peyton Manning, Quarterback
Manning was back to his old tricks against the Pittsburgh Steelers last week, throwing for 253 yards and two touchdowns and running the Broncos' offense with nary a hitch. As a football fan, it was fantastic seeing him playing once again.
Still, you can't help but watch a little more closely every time a rush draws near him or when he throws a deep out across the field. Will he be able to withstand the big hits this year? Will his arm strength hold up?
So far, so good. Once again, Manning is giving defenses headaches. I don't think the Falcons will be an exception.
Falcons Player to Watch: Michael Turner
Turner's debut this season was fairly disappointing, namely for fantasy owners: 11 carries, 32 yards, no touchdowns. With Matt Ryan and the Falcons passing attack clicking against the Kansas City Chiefs, there was simply little need to involve Turner in the game.
Such won't be the case against the Broncos, who possess a solid pass rush and secondary and should make life more difficult for Ryan.
Thus, I expect we'll see the Falcons attempt to establish the running game early in this one. The sledding won't be easy for Turner, but if he can grind out yards, help the Falcons control possession and keep Ryan in manageable third-down situations, Atlanta will win this game.
And Turner's fantasy owners will be happy, too.
Key Matchup: Falcons Pass Protection vs. Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil
How good is Von Miller?
The young player added to his legend on Sunday, registering four tackles and two sacks against the Steelers. For those of you keeping track at home, that's now 14.5 sacks in 18 career games (postseason included).
Dumervil did work as well, also finishing with four tackles and two sacks. The Falcons are going to have to find ways to keep both of them out of Ryan's lap on Monday night. Maybe they double-team one with a tight end. Perhaps they chip the other with a running back to help out the tackles.
Whatever the plan may be, Miller and Dumervil are capable of completely disrupting a passing game if allowed to attack offensive lineman one-on-one. The Falcons better pay very close attention to both if they hope to win.
On the Hot Seat: The Denver Running Backs
Yes, Willis McGahee got the majority of the carries (16) and yards (64) for Denver in Week 1. And seeing as he did so against a tough Pittsburgh defense, the temptation might be to assume he's in line for a bump in production moving forward.
Maybe he is. But seeing as Knowshon Moreno (five carries, 13 yards, one touchdown) and Lance Ball (two carries, 14 yards) combined to steal a third of the carries from McGahee, I hardly feel confident he has a stranglehold on the starting job.
Plus, who knows what will happen once the team feels Ronnie Hillman is where he needs to be? How many touches might he snake as well?
Expect this to be a running back by committee situation all year long, frustrating fantasy owners the entire way. Carries aren't guaranteed in Denver, and someone will have to really stand out or face losing playing time each and every week.
It's hard to bet against Manning after his solid Week 1 showing. But top to bottom, I think Atlanta is a better team, and Ryan looked like a quarterback ready to take the next step last weekend. This one will be a battle, but look for the Falcons to get the win, 28-24.
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