The Miami Dolphins are finally coming home, and will do so with a 2-0 record for the first time since 2010 and only the second time since 2004.
The Dolphins defeated the Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts in their respective homes thanks in part to a defense that showed up when it mattered and an offense that has been masterfully led by quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who is forcing his way into the conversation as an top-10 NFL quarterback.
For the Dolphins, they enter their toughest test of the year, and on Dolphins Central Radio earlier this week, I predicted that the Dolphins would lose to the Falcons.
Despite that, I still see how the Dolphins can come away with the victory and their first 3-0 start since 2002.
Today we will go through the ways that the Dolphins can do just that.
It was fun to see Mike Wallace engaged in the game early and often, and the production backed up the strategy as he provided the Dolphins with nine catches for 115 yards and a touchdown and most importantly, no drops in 11 targets.
Will Wallace get 10+ targets again against the Falcons? Yes he will, especially since he will likely have a rookie cornerback on him in Desmond Trufant.
Trufant has played decently in his first two NFL games, especially since he's had no small task in covering the likes of Tavon Austin and Marques Colston. Atlanta's pass defense is struggling as a whole though, allowing both Drew Brees and Sam Bradford to pass for over 300 yards.
Can Ryan Tannehill be the third consecutive quarterback to hang 300 on the Falcons? There's no reason why he shouldn't. We will talk about Atlanta's pass rush later, but against Atlanta's defensive backfield, he should be able to find not only Wallace, but also Brandon Gibson, Brian Hartline and Charles Clay more than enough times against what looks like the weakest of spots on an already weak and suffering Atlanta defense.
The Falcons' front seven isn't exactly known for their pass rush.
So far in the first two games of the season, the Falcons have only manage to muster two sacks, and that was before they lost Kroy Biermann and Sean Weatherspoon to injuries this week.
Biermann will be out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon, which is very unfortunate for them since he is the focal point of their pass rush (he's used by the Falcons' defensive coordinator Mike Nolan the same way he used Cameron Wake during his time in Miami). To fill in for him, the Falcons will go with Jonathan Massaquoi.
This is an important battle to watch since Massaquoi will be squaring off against the struggling Tyson Clabo (sneak preview of tomorrow's article). Despite his struggles, I'd give the advantage to Clabo, and the advantage overall to the Dolphins' offensive line for this week considering that Atlanta's key pass rusher is Osi Umenyiora. However, he's primarily used as a third down pass rusher.
Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon sprained his foot, and will be out for at least the next six weeks after being placed on injured reserve with the designation to return. The Falcons use Weatherspoon in the same way Nolan used Karlos Dansby in Miami, and will be replaced by Joplo Bartu, an undrafted free agent who will be making his first ever NFL start.
The Falcons, like most NFL teams, use the philosophy of "next man up", but will the next men up at the pass rush be effective for the Falcons? If they are, it will be an improvement since the Falcons have so far been fairly ineffective in that category, as well as defending the pass as a whole.
Thus far, Brent Grimes is looking like he is the biggest prize in the Miami Dolphins' free agent haul of 2013.
In two games he has made his presence known on the field thanks to four passes defended as well as a game-saving interception against the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday.
This Sunday he faces his former team for the first time since he left the Falcons. He missed 15 games last season due to a torn Achilles tendon, which is partially the reason he is currently a Miami Dolphin.
Losing Grimes has been met with mixed reactions in Atlanta since he left, with some fans arguing that it was a mistake and others claiming it was the correct move due to his age and last injury.
The reality is in the long term it will likely work for Atlanta, although their secondary is currently hurting. In the short term (and hopefully long term), it's working for the Miami Dolphins, which has seen a secondary that has done a better job of closing out games and forcing turnovers (Dimitri Patterson and Nolan Carroll have the other three of Miami's four interceptions, but have also both seen improved play since Grimes signed with Miami).
Grimes does have experience practicing against Atlanta's high-octane offense, but he will have his hands filled with Julio Jones, who exploded on the St. Louis Rams for 182 yards and a touchdown on 11 catches. That matchup feels like a wash, but add in Grimes' motivation and you could see a great performance from him, which could swing the game Miami's way.
You try listening to this song without dancing or getting happy. It's just impossible.
That's why Chaka Khan is this week's halftime entertainment.
HOME TEAM IN CAPS.
PHILADELPHIA (-3.5) over Kansas City
With a line this low, I tend to go towards the home team on Thursday Nights. Andy Reid's homecoming should be fun, but the short week and the fact that the Eagles are at home swing this towards Philly.
NEW ORLEANS (-7) over Arizona
Here's a fun early game to watch, but expect a Saints win in the dome.
St. Louis (+4) over DALLAS
The Cowboys will pull out a close one by a field goal or less.
MINNESOTA (-6) over Cleveland
Even with a Browns defense that should limit Adrian Peterson; a Browns offense led by Brian Hoyer and minus the departed Trent Richardson won't score enough points to stay with the Vikings, even if the Vikings only net 10 points.
San Diego (+3) over TENNESSEE
San Diego is a better team than the Titans, and I could easily see them pulling out a second consecutive east coast victory.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+7) over NEW ENGLAND
Hey, here's a team that can't win close games going against a team that has had two consecutive close victories against bad teams. It's depressing to me that the Dolphins will be more impressive in a loss to Atlanta than the Patriots will be in a win against a horrid Tampa Bay team, yet everyone will still say the Patriots are a better team (yes, I know the record is the likely reason Pats fans, but admit it, you don't want to play the Dolphins right now).
WASHINGTON (-2.5) over Detroit
New York Giants (+1) over CAROLINA
Reality is this: these teams are equal talent wise (which is to say, outside of quarterback there isn't too much around). But the Giants have more discipline and should get the victory.
Atlanta (+3) over MIAMI
Wait, the Dolphins are favored? This is something to celebrate...until the game starts. I wish the Dolphins could win this game, and think they will be competitive until the end. But the Falcons will pull this one out.
Buffalo (+3) over NEW YORK JETS
I'll take Buffalo's rookie quarterback over the Jets' rookie quarterback.
Houston (-2.5) over BALTIMORE
I've flip-flopped on this so many times, usually going with the Ravens' home field advantage winning it. However, Houston is the superior team, they can win in Baltimore by more than a field goal.
Indianapolis (+10) over SAN FRANSISCO
SEATTLE (-19) over Jacksonville
I almost picked the Jags to cover because in the NFL you don't see teams run up the score.
Then I remembered that if any team is willing to run up the score, it's a Pete Carroll-led Seahawks team. It's the only double-digit spread I see being covered this week.
Chicago (-3) over PITTSBURGH
Oakland (-15.5) over DENVER
Last week: 14-2 (9-5-2 vs. spread)
Season: 22-10 (14-13-3)
This is your grasping for straws reason right here, so it will be a short slide.
The Dolphins have spent the offseason in the South Florida heat, practicing, playing preseason games and working out.
It's safe to say they're used to it by now despite starting off the season with two road games.
The Falcons play in a dome and while they will dabble in outdoor practices, they practice in a bubble.
As for dealing with the heat and humidity, advantage Dolphins. Now if only they could use the right formula to take advantage of this.
The formula: a fast-paced offense in the first half that includes plenty of passing and use of the hurry-up offense. This should give the Falcons defense (many of whom are first time starters) almost no time to rest and catch up and leave them winded.
Then in the second half: run it down their throats as fatigue begins to build up in the Falcons defense.
Do that, and Miami should win. Let's hope Mike Sherman recognizes this advantage.
Now here's a look at who's on injured reserve for the Falcons, as well as who might or will miss Sunday's game.
If there's a time to play the Atlanta Falcons, it's right now. This will be the best chance the Dolphins would have at beating the Falcons this season (aside from the Super Bowl since the Falcons do have a history of choking in the postseason).
Keep in mind while looking at Atlanta's injuries, Miami have their own injury issues.
Let's start with the biggest concern: no Paul Soliai (according to Armando Salguero). The only upside to that is that he has Randy Starks to replace him, but it also means expect Vaughn Martin to get some playing time.
The other big concern: Chris Clemons, who has been held out of practice all week. Scary thing: Jimmy Wilson will replace him and have to deal with Tony Gonzalez.
I'm not too concerned with Ryan Tannehill's shoulder injury. He will be ready to go on Sunday, and besides, my shoulders would hurt if I had to carry an offense with a horrid offensive line too.
Speaking of that offensive line, they could just be bad enough to jump start Atlanta's pass rush. Keep that in mind.
This is why I think the Falcons will win, even though I'm hoping for the absolute best from the Dolphins.
But this game will be a moral victory. The Dolphins will lose by less than a touchdown, and Tannehill will have another great game. There will be more reasons for hope even after this loss, for this is a playoff team.
Atlanta 31, Miami 27