Both the Broncos (31-19 win over Pittsburgh Steelers) and the Falcons (40-24 over Kansas City Chiefs) come into Monday night's clash with a 1-0 record, which sets up the week's cap to be one of the better matchups of Week 2.
Earlier this week, I picked the Broncos to beat the Falcons on the road, 30-24. Considering my overall win-loss record of predictions through two weeks is just 18-13, don't put too much stock into the pick or final score.
But I didn't pick the Broncos on blind faith. There are reasons why I think they'll beat Atlanta in the Georgia Dome tonight, and most of them center around Manning.
Here's how Manning can lead the Broncos past the Falcons tonight.
Challenging the Falcons' New Slot CB
Atlanta had arguably the league's top cornerback trio in Asante Samuel, Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes coming into the 2012 season, but it lost the best of the three in Week 1 when Grimes went down with a season-ending injury.
Now, Robinson shifts back outside and dime cornerback Chris Owens slides into the slot as the nickel corner. Manning should look to this matchup early and often Monday night.
The drop-off from Grimes to Owens is a sharp one.
Consider the 2011 season, when, according to our good friends at Pro Football Focus, Grimes gave up a passer rating of just 62.9 on 56 targeted attempts. Owens, in comparison, gave up a 123.3 passer rating on 37 attempts, equaling one of the worst ratings allowed by a cornerback last season. Opponents also completed almost 76 percent of passes when targeting him in 2011, the third-worst among NFL cornerbacks.
Look for Manning to exploit whomever Owens lines up against tonight. The Broncos have the receivers to hurt Owens and the Falcons in the slot.
Bright Lights and Loud Crowd Are Nothing New
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has a shiny record at home since becoming Atlanta's starting quarterback in 2007, and there's no doubt that he plays better in front of the Georgia Dome crowd. But another big reason why the Falcons are so good at home is the atmosphere of the stadium and how that pressure affects opposing quarterbacks.
However, don't expect Manning to fall victim to a raucous crowd or the bright lights of Monday Night Football. He's been there and done that in his NFL career.
In fact, in four career games (3-1) against the Falcons, Manning has a career passer rating of 118.5, with 13 touchdowns against just four interceptions. His lone loss came during his rookie season in 1998, and the last time he played Atlanta in the Georgia Dome, Manning threw for 272 yards and three scores in a 31-13 Colts win (2007).
Manning is also 11-3 all-time on Monday Night Football with a 99.1 passer rating.
Dome noise and prime time won't rattle the Broncos quarterback tonight.
Tight End Matchups
The Falcons came into the season expecting to use their nickel package extensively, subbing a cornerback for a linebacker on most downs. Now, with Grimes on the shelf, the Falcons may go back to a more basic 4-3 look.
That benefits Manning, especially when he goes to the no-huddle. Without the Falcons having the ability to sub in and out, Manning can pick and choose which matchup he wants to go after.
On some downs, that will be against Owens in the slot. But when the Falcons stay with three linebackers, watch for Manning to attack the linebackers covering tight ends.
A season ago, Sean Weatherspoon and Stephen Nicholas gave up almost 700 total yards in pass coverage. Weatherspoon alone allowed 63 catches for 567 yards and two scores.
The Chiefs completed five passes for 73 yards and a touchdown to tight ends against the Falcons in Week 1.
When Manning finds Weatherspoon on Jacob Tamme or Joel Dreessen, the Broncos probably want to attack that matchup.
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