The Atlanta Falcons (8-1) will attempt to rebound from their first loss of the season against the reeling Arizona Cardinals (4-5). In terms of the playoff race, the Falcons are looking to hold onto the top seed while the Cardinals are just hoping to say alive.
Atlanta came up short against the division rival New Orleans Saints last week, ending its unbeaten run just as talk of an undefeated season was beginning. The loss doesn't alter the Falcons' status as one of the top contenders in the NFC, however.
It's been a season of emotional swings for the Cardinals. They started 4-0, defying the expectations of just about everybody, but have since played more like the team everyone expected. They return from their bye in desperate need of a win.
Let's take a glance at the viewing information for Sunday's matchup followed by some predictions for the important NFC clash.
Where: Georgia Dome in Atlanta
When: Sunday, Nov. 18 at 1 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NFL Sunday Ticket
Spread: Falcons -9.5 (via Vegas Insider)
The Falcons should understand the importance of getting right back in the win column after their first loss. If not, all they have to do is look across the field at the Cardinals to see what happened to them when they let a single loss begin to snowball.
Atlanta needs to get a better performance from Michael Turner in order to cover the spread. The workhorse back has been wildly inconsistent throughout the season, gaining just 15 yards on 13 carries last week. Without him providing balance, the offense doesn't run as smoothly.
Ultimately, the Falcons are simply a much better team than the Cardinals. Throw in the fact they will want to end their losing streak before it has a chance to begin and Atlanta should roll by at least two touchdowns, led by a bounce-back showing from Turner.
Over/Under: 44 (via Vegas Insider)
Despite the fact they have only lost one game, the Falcons actually rank in the bottom half of the league in yards allowed. So that should help an Arizona offense that has struggled mightily during the team's recent downfall.
Combine that with the fact the Falcons' offense is one of the most explosive units in the league and over is the way to go. Even though the number is on the high side for a game involving Arizona, Atlanta should provide most of the necessary scoring.
The only concern people might have is the injuries the Falcons are dealing with on offense, but they have enough depth to replace a player or two if necessary. It looks like Tony Gonzalez will be ready to roll after huge game last week, though.
Key Injuries (via CBS Sports)
Cardinals: Calais Campbell (questionable, calf), Todd Heap (questionable, knee) and Kerry Rhodes (probable, back)
Falcons: Julio Jones (questionable, ankle), Sean Weatherspoon (questionable, ankle), John Abraham (questionable, back) and Tony Gonzalez (probable, shoulder)
Fantasy Big Plays
Arizona: Larry Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald is the pick by default. Do to Arizona's injury problems at running back, the Cardinals are lacking in the fantasy weapon department. The talented wide receiver at least provides some upside in an otherwise lackluster offense.
He's averaging just under nine fantasy points per week, but is coming off a 13-point performance against the Green Bay Packers prior to the bye. More importantly, John Skelton is averaging 45 attempts per game over the last three weeks. That equals more targets for Fitzgerald.
While the veteran doesn't possess the No. 1 value he would in just about any other offense in the league, he's still a solid No. 2 fantasy wideout. Expect him to find the end zone once en route to scoring around 15 points this week.
Atlanta: Matt Ryan
Ryan is finally enjoying the breakout fantasy season owners have been waiting for thanks to an offensive shift to the passing game. He ranks fourth in average QB scoring, ahead of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, among many others.
Julio Jones' questionable tag is a bit concerning, but Harry Douglas is capable of filling the void on a short-term basis without having to worry about a significant drop-off. And Roddy White has been on fire lately, which will also help Ryan.
It's crunch time in fantasy leagues as the playoffs approach and, in most cases, that means it's best to stick with your star players. Even though the matchup is marginal at best, Ryan must be in all lineups and should put up solid numbers.
Keys to Cardinals Win
The most important thing for Arizona is getting a couple early stops on defense. It can't allow Atlanta to put together a couple early scoring drives or the game will get ugly. The Cardinals don't have the firepower to keep up in a shootout.
Daryl Washington will have to play a prominent role in slowing down the high-flying Falcons. The linebacker leads the team with 75 tackles and eight sacks. If the Cardinals' pass rush can get consistent pressure on Ryan, they should be in good shape.
On offense, LaRod Stephens-Howling has to control the pace of the game on the ground. He performance has been up and down since sliding into a starting role, but he's got big-play potential if the offensive line can provide the running lanes.
Keys to Falcons Win
The Falcons have to place an emphasis on the running game. They aren't going to survive in the playoffs unless Turner is providing some semblance of a threat on the ground. Opposing defenses will eventually find a way to slow a one-dimensional attack.
Even though Turner isn't the dynamic option he once was, he's still shown flashes of being a reliable back throughout the season. He has to start showing that on a weekly basis, starting on Sunday against a shaky Cardinals run defense.
If Atlanta can run and stop the run, therefore forcing Skelton to throw more than 30 times again, it should be in terrific shape. The Falcons should be in cruise control by the time to fourth quarter rolls around, coasting to a rebound victory.
Falcons 31, Cardinals 17
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