It’s too soon to say if either one of these teams is a legitimate contender, though their divisions are certainly ripe for the taking.
For the Chargers, they may have the easiest challenge ahead in the AFC West. The Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders have been anemic while the Denver Broncos were decisively beaten by these Falcons one week ago on Monday Night Football.
Nothing is certain in the AFC West, though. The Chargers are 6-6 against their divisional foes and have been unable to separate themselves from the mediocrity of the division over the past two seasons.
A type of game of this magnitude, this early in the season, is a momentum builder that may help convince one of these teams that their early success will translate into the postseason.
Where: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, California
When: Sunday, Sep. 23 at 4:05 p.m. ET
Live Stream: DirecTV Sunday Ticket (Pay Service)
Listen: NFL Audio Pass
Odds: San Diego Chargers -3 (via BetOnline)
While the Chargers will likely win this game, it’s going to be close. Go with the Falcons to stay close but fall short in the end.
Last week, the Atlanta Falcons intercepted legend Peyton Manning three times and stifled the Broncos’ offense in the early going. Manning’s bad night is attributable to a terrible start in which he threw those three picks in the first quarter. He looked like he was lacking zip on his passes and made poor decisions under pressure.
The Chargers, though, have been firing on all cylinders as of late. Their offense torched the Tennessee Titans through the air on the strong arm of Philip Rivers. It’s a matchup of a good offense against a good defense.
Over/Under: 47.5 (via BetOnline)
Go with the under on this one.
Both the Falcons and Chargers have explosive caliber offenses, but each will be hampered by the effectiveness of the opposing defense.
The Chargers’ defense has stifled opposing rushing games, allowing a league-best 41.5 yards per game after two games. That’s a problem for the Atlanta Falcons who have been miserable running the football so far in 2012.
Atlanta’s defense has been good at creating turnovers and holding leads, but it has also surrendered a considerable amount of yards through both the air and on the ground.
|DE John Abraham||Knee||Limited Participant in Practice||Probable|
|WR Julio Jones||Thigh||Limited Participant in Practice||Probable|
|T Tyson Clabo||Hip||Limited Participant in Practice||Questionable|
|WR Roddy White||Knee||Limited Participant in Practice||Probable|
|LB Sean Weatherspoon||Thigh||Limited Participant in Practice||Questionable|
|RB Antone Smith||Hamstring||Did Not Participate in Practice||Out|
|CB Christopher Owens||Head||Did Not Participate in Practice||Out|
|LB Stephen Nicholas||Thigh||Limited Participant in Practice||Probable|
|RB Curtis Brinkley||Knee||Full Participant in Practice||Probable|
|TE Antonio Gates||Ribs||Full Participant in Practice||Probable|
|T Jared Gaither||Back||Did Not Participate in Practice||Out|
|WR Eddie Royal||Shoulder||Full Participant in Practice||Probable|
|TE Dante Rosario||Calf||Full Participant in Practice||Probable|
|CB Shareece Wright||Foot||Did Not Participate in Practice||Questionable|
|RB Ryan Matthews||Clavicle||Full Participant in Practice||Probable|
Keys to Falcons Win: Establish the Run
Atlanta is only rushing for 75.5 yards per game with Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers in the backfield. Clearly, there has been a significant shift from the previous year in both philosophy and execution for the dirty birds.
If the Falcons abandon the run early against the tough Chargers’ rush defense, this game may get lopsided. The last thing Matt Ryan wants to see is the Chargers' defense pinning back its ears and coming after him all afternoon.
Keys to Chargers Win: Pressure Matt Ryan
Atlanta is struggling to move the ball on the ground, but will need to establish the run against the Chargers on Sunday. If San Diego is up to the challenge and stuffs Michael Turner—it’s open season on Matt Ryan.
Their pass rush will need to be on top of its game, though, because the Falcons’ passing game is as high-flying as it gets in the NFL right now. After two games, the team has created pressure on the quarterback, but has only recorded three sacks so far.
Prediction: Chargers 24, Falcons 21
The Week 3 West Coast trip will prove to be too much for the Atlanta Falcons, who are usually successful on the left coast. Over the past two years, the Falcons are 2-0 on the West Coast, winning both matchups against the Seattle Seahawks. They’re also 7-1 against the Chargers all-time.
The Chargers, though, are playing great defensive football and have a competent offense to keep the team in the ballgame and make plays when necessary. They aren’t as explosive as in years past, but Philip Rivers can control the football and keep the defense rested up.
Look for an exciting and close game in San Diego this weekend. One with a huge Chargers win at its final whistle.
Mike Hoag is a Breaking News Team writer with Bleacher Report and also covers the Cleveland Browns and the NFL for the site.