When the Bills and Falcons last met in December of 2013, it was also the last time Buffalo was forced to sacrifice a home game to go play north of the border in Toronto (maybe you remember TE Scott Chandler fumbling the game away in overtime). Sorry to rehash bad memories, but yeah, Buffalo ultimately lost 34-31 and Atlanta improved to 7-4 all-time against the Bills.
A lot has changed since 2013 though. Buffalo is under new ownership, has a new GM and has suffered through two head coaching changes, while their playoff drought has grown to 17 years. Meanwhile, Atlanta made a coaching change three seasons ago themselves, which resulted in a trip to the Super Bowl last season. Their quarterback, Matt Ryan, is now an MVP winner and they have opened a new, state of the art stadium that will house the two teams this Sunday.
When they meet on Sunday, it’s a matchup between one of the NFL’s most high-powered offenses and one of its most suffocating defenses. This oughta be fun.
Here are 5 Bills, Falcons matchup notes to keep in mind…
1) Four straight for the Falcons
Dating back to 2001, Atlanta is riding a four-game win streak in the series, and have scored 31 or more points in three of those four games. Yes, that means the last time the Bills beat the Falcons the playoff drought did not exist. You have to go back to 1995 to find the last Bills win in the series, a 23-17 victory. Buffalo’s starting quarterback in that game was Jim Kelly – maybe you’ve heard of him. The Hall of Famer threw for 272 yards and two touchdowns that day, while fellow HOFer Thurman Thomas rushed for 66 yards on 17 carries. Beleive it or not, Thomas was actually outperformed by Darik Homles who racked up 100 rushing yards for Buffalo. Kelly and company also took down the Falcons in 1992 by way of a 41-14 blowout. For what it’s worth, both of those victories came at home and the Bills haven’t won a game in Atlanta since 1973. Perhaps they’re due.
2) Another undefeated & another MVP
For the third consecutive game, Buffalo takes on an undefeated team. Last week in particular, the Bills surprisingly knocked off the 2-0 Denver Broncos. They’ll hope to hand the 3-0 Atlanta Falcons – one of only two undefeated teams left in the NFL – their first loss of the season as well. Easier said than done, given Atlanta’s offensive prowess. They’re a much different animal than any opponent Buffalo has faced thus far. Additionally, the Bills already faced 2015 MVP, QB Cam Newton, in Week 2, now they get a shot at reigning MVP Matt Ryan. Ryan is actually the second of four former MVPs the Bills face this year, with matchups against Saints RB Adrian Peterson and Patriots QB Tom Brady looming later this season.
3) Matty Ice vs. McDermott
Having spent the last six years as the Panthers defensive coordinator, Sean McDermott is quite familiar with the reigning MVP. Ryan lined up across from McDermott’s defense 12 times during his tenure in Carolina and once back in 2010 when McDermott held the same role for the Philadephia Eagles. In those 13 games, Ryan is 7-6, including wins in each of the last three contests. Sticking strictly to their battles while McDermott was in Carolina, Ryan has a 68.5 completion percentage, has thrown for 3,531 yards and tossed 21 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. In their first meeting last season, Ryan had arguably the best single-game performance of his career, recording a career-high 503 yards, while tying his career-high for touchdowns in a single-game with four. The Falcons won 48-33. Where McDermott’s defense has excelled is in the sack department, registering 43 of them against Ryan during his year’s in Carolina and 46 in total. Under McDermott’s command, Carolina’s defense owns three of the four highest single-game sack totals against Ryan. During a game in 2013, the Panthers tallied nine total sacks on Ryan. They also had games with seven and six sacks under McDermott’s command. Ironically enough, the Bills are the fourth team in that conversation, also registering six sacks against Ryan in their last meeting on December 1, 2013. As you know, six sacks weren’t enough to stop the Falcons that day. Ryan threw for 311 yards in Atlanta’s 34-31 OT win.
4) Somethings gotta give
This Bills, Falcons matchup pairs one of the leagues most stingy defenses through the first three weeks of the season, against one of its most prolific offenses. Buffalo’s defense ranks in the top 10 in total yards allowed per game (278.3), passing yards allowed per game (203), rushing yards allowed per game (75.3), sacks (10), red zone defense (28.57-percent), and most notably lead the league in touchdowns allowed (2) and total points per game (12.3). They are an elite bunch, but lining up across from them is by far their biggest test of the season thus far. Atlanta’s offense ranks in the top 10 in total yards per game (388), passing yards per game (269.3), rushing yards per game (118.), third down conversion percentage (45.16) and points per game (29). Something’s gotta give on Sunday for one of these teams to walk out victors.
5) Tyrod Taylor vs. the NFC
Tyrod Taylor has developed a sort of flukey trend when it comes to playing against NFC opponents. In 2015, his first season as the Bills starting QB, Taylor went 1-3 against Buffalo’s NFC opponents, which happened to be the NFC East. The results in order were: 24-10 loss to the Giants in Week 4, 23-20 loss to the Eagles in Week 14, 35-25 loss to the Redskins in Week 15 and finally a 16-6 win over the Cowboys in Week 16. One year later and Taylor’s record vs. the NFC was flipped. He went 3-1 against the NFC West in 2016 but what’s eerie is that it played out the exact same way: 33-18 win over Arizona in Week 3, 30-19 win over Los Angeles in Week 5, 45-16 win over San Francisco in Week 6 and a 31-25 loss to Seattle in Week 9. So in 2015 it was three losses and a win, in that order, then three wins and a loss in 2016. How strange. And for what it’s worth, after a loss to Carolina in Week 2, losing to the Falcons would have Taylor well on his way to repeating the trend again.
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