Neither of these teams has lived up to their potential this season. Both are rapidly falling out of playoff contention, yet neither have been bad enough to contend for the first overall pick. At least one of them will be guaranteed a win on Sunday, but will that be enough to get Atlanta or Jacksonville back into the playoff hunt? Atlanta have lost their last six games after starting 5-0. There seem to be real problems across the roster, and their season hit a new low last week with a 38-0 loss to Carolina. The Falcons came with a yard of scoring some points, but couldn’t punch it in. Offensive woes and a lack of progress on defense have the Falcons rapidly falling out of wild card contention. Jacksonville have improved this season, but not as much as Gus Bradley would have hoped. At 5-8, the Jaguars have a chance to get to .500 for the first time since 2010 and are being carried by their promising young offense. The defense however, has cost the Jaguars several likely wins and have kept them from seizing control of a weak AFC South. A win today will keep them alive for the AFC South crown, however.
Three Keys to the Game
Can Atlanta run the ball?
Atlanta’s formula during their 5-0 start was to base the offense around Devonta Freeman, who looked like an early candidate for Offensive Player of the Year. However, since their first showdown with the Saints, Freeman has eclipsed 100 yards just once, and has missed a few games due to injury. He has not had a rushing touchdown since Week 6. With Freeman struggling, Atlanta’s offense has sagged. Matt Ryan has not been able to build a passing game off of play action and looks uncomfortable in Kyle Shanahan’s system. However, against a poor Jacksonville defense, maybe this is the week that Ryan and Freeman turn things around.
Pressuring Blake Bortles
Dan Quinn was hired to fix Atlanta’s defense, specifically their pass rush. However, in year one, he hasn’t been able to do that despite drafting Clemson standout Vic Beasley. Atlanta rank bottom of the league with just 15 sacks and have been unable to generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks for much of the season. However, Jacksonville has allowed 39 sacks this season and have struggled to protect Blake Bortles, who was sacked three times by Indianapolis. Atlanta may be able to pressure Bortles more than they have other quarterbacks, but that may not be enough to disrupt Jacksonville’s offense.
Over the last three games, Jacksonville have averaged 40 points per game. Over their last three, Atlanta have averaged around 10 points. Even if Atlanta are able to pressure Bortles and get Devonta Freeman running a bit better, the chances are that Jacksonville will still outscore them. Bortles has been playing well and has an offense full of dynamic playmakers like Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, Julius Thomas and T.J. Yeldon. With Atlanta’s struggles on defense, it’s unlikely that they will be able to cover all of those weapons.
Match-up to watch
Desmond Trufant vs Allen Robinson
Trufant has quietly been one of the league’s best shutdown corners over the last few years, yet hasn’t been recognised due to Atlanta’s struggles. Sometimes it’s because teams just don’t throw his way. However, against an emerging young talent like Allen Robinson, Trufant will likely see more action than usual. Robinson ranks 8th in the league with 1084 yards, and is tied for the league lead with 12 touchdowns. Trufant looks set for a long afternoon on Sunday.
Neither of these teams is particularly trustworthy when expected to win games, but the edge goes to Jacksonville. The Jaguars are peaking at the right time on offense and will be able to outscore Atlanta if nothing else.