Atlanta Falcons (0-0) at Kansas City Chiefs (0-0)
When I looked at the week 1 games a few months ago, this one stood out to me. There was a reason. I bet the Falcons as road favorites in Chicago week 1 last year and got burned as the Falcons proved that their struggles on the road were more important than their talent edge and lost pretty easily. Obviously, I had that game in mind and I was nervous to bet the Falcons in a similar situation this year week 1, especially in Kansas City, a pretty tough place to play.
The Chiefs aren’t a great team, but they can definitely win some games and pull some upsets if you let them play their game. They have a strong defense which should be even better this season with the emergence of Justin Houston, a budding star at linebacker. The Chiefs have been starved for another pass rushing option after Tamba Hali for years and Houston worked his way into the starting lineup last season and had 6 sacks, 3 quarterback hits, and 13 quarterback pressures on 207 pass rush snaps, good for a rate of 10.6%. It’s no coincidence that they had 20 of their 27 sacks in the 7 games Houston started. His emergence should be able to make up for the dropdown from Brandon Carr to Stanford Routt at cornerback.
On the offensive side of the ball, they don’t have a very good quarterback, but they can run the ball with the best of them with Jamaal Charles coming back and Peyton Hillis coming in at running back behind an improved run blocking offensive line with Eric Winston coming in. They plan to have a very conservative offense and rely on their running game and defense to make Matt Cassel’s life easy. They made the playoffs with this formula in 2010, winning the division with a record of 10-6 and though I didn’t predict it (I don’t think Matt Cassel can keep up the 1.6% interception rate he had in 2010, considering his career rate is 2.9%, excluding 2010), it can definitely happen again in 2012.
However, they’re going to have a very tough time playing good defense and stopping an Atlanta offense that looked very good in the preseason, backing up what many people felt before the preseason, that Matt Ryan and company were about to make the leap with Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez. The Chiefs are missing Tamba Hali with suspension, which pretty much defeats the emergence of Houston and they could be without Derrick Johnson and Brandon Flowers. Those are their top 3 defensive players. Without their top pass rusher and possibly without their top cornerback and top middle linebacker, they’re going to have a tough time stopping the Falcons, even at home in Kansas City. I don’t think this line fully takes that into account as it’s only moved 2 points from 2-3 months ago to now.
That’s going to make it tough for the Chiefs to follow their conservative game plan and will force Matt Cassel to have to do more than they would like. Besides, in 2010, when the Chiefs made the playoffs, they didn’t do well against good competition like the Falcons almost certainly are. They went just 2-5 against teams that were .500 or better, including playoffs, and 8-2 against teams that were sub .500. One of their two wins came against the early season Chargers week 1, in a game where Matt Cassel threw for 68 yards and their 3 scores came on a long touchdown run, a pick six, and a punt return touchdown. The Chargers avenged that defeat with a 31-0 victory later in the season. The other came against the Jacksonville Jaguars, who were starting 3rd string quarterback Todd Bauman. Their 5 losses, meanwhile, came by a combined 88 points. I think they could see another big loss to a tough team this week.
Atlanta Falcons 27 Kansas City Chiefs 13
Pick against spread: Atlanta -3 (+100) 2 units