All eyes will be on the Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens on Thursday night in the Georgia Dome, as the two teams atop each conference square off on the NFL Network.
Wait, NFL Network?
Ok, so only those eyes with select cable providers that don’t place NFL Network on a premium tier. And those that go to a sports bar. And those that are in the Atlanta metro area.
So not all eyes, but quite a few. The rest will at least be using their eyes to check the score on the ticker.
At any rate, the Falcons and Ravens match-up presents a major opportunity for one of the two teams to make a statement as the best in the NFL. Some have even called it a possible Super Bowl preview. But in a football season that is as murky as theÂ Chattahoochee River, nearly every match-up outside of the Bills vs. Panthers could be deemed a championship preview.
Week 10 is far too early to be dreaming of Super Bowl confetti. In a short week, where both teams have had to turn around after a Sunday afternoon game and prepare for a huge test just four days later, neither will have an opportunity to get caught up in the hype machine.
Given the quick prep time, which borders on capital punishment, this will be a game of attrition and will. Both teams will tire, mentally and physically, at some point in the game. Which one does it earlier and for longer stretches in the game is the one that will lose. That isn’t terribly different than any other game, but it should only be amplified on Thursday night.
To further the possible pain, two offensive starters — wide receiver Roddy White and center Todd McClure — are listed as questionable and have been limited in practice. That could be a strategic move to rest them, but whether they play or not the Falcons have their hands full with the Ravens defense. Baltimore –Â led by studs all over the field, too many to name — has held six of its eight opponents this year to 17 points or fewer.
Meanwhile, the Falcons offense has scored less than 16 only once this season. That was against the Pittsburgh Steelers, when Atlanta only scored nine. This is the toughest defense the Falcons have faced since then and it might not be close. If Roddy White is limited, the Ravens will not fear getting beat down the field and will undoubtedly turn their full attention to the line of scrimmage and plugging up Michael Turner with their space eating defensive tackles, like Haloti Ngata, and their always hard hitting linebackers, like Ray Lewis. That could be bad.
Atlanta’s defense doesn’t have any easier of a time. Joe Flacco, who came out in the same draft class as Matt Ryan, is not a world beater but is efficient, and at times very good. The Ravens’ weapons includeÂ running back Ray Rice, who can catch as well as he can run exhibited by having the fourth most catches on the team, as well as wide receiver Anquan Boldin, a physical specimen. Toss in veterans like wide receiver Derrick Mason, tight end Todd Heap Â and short yardage back Willis McGahee, and you have an offense that can be dangerous.
These two teams are tied for first in the NFC and AFC for a reason. They are both very good at finding ways to win, especially in times of adversity. Nothing says adversity like four days to prepare and playing on the road. The Dome should be rowdy on Thursday night, but the Ravens have the right mix of talent and experience to handle such a situation. A lot hinges on the receivers in this game, something you wouldn’t expect with two physical run-defense oriented teams. But whichever unit shows up on the outside will break open this game. One has to side with the health of Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason against the uncertainty of Roddy White.
The obligatory prediction that I’ll ignore if it’s wrong and claim if it’s right:
Ravens 20 — Falcons 17
Prime Time Game
There is no better moment for the Atlanta Falcons toÂ induct Deion Sanders into its Ring of Honor than Thursday night, when they will hold the ceremony. Sanders,Â who called himself Prime Time,Â made a career off flashy plays with the lights on and everyone watching. Although he only played for the Falcons from 1989 to 1993, and made an even biggerÂ name for himself in San Francisco and Dallas, he has always been considered an Atlanta boy. He was a bridge to what we now see in the modern cornerback and kick returner. All the flair, bravado and swagger that is expected with those duties nowadays, Deion very much created it. Even if he didn’t like tackling anyone.
The DomeÂ Is Home
Coach Mike Smith is 17-3 at home since coming to the Falcons. Matt Ryan is 17-1. That doesn’t make the above prediction look too smart, huh?
Attacking Their Blindside
Everyone and their mother, literally, knows by now, but Michael Oher — the character that the Sandra Bullock film The Blind Side was made about — is the starting left tackle for the Baltimore Ravens. The only blindside that the Falcons’ defensive ends should be worried about, though, is that of Joe Flacco. And hitting it.