Sometimes the NFL schedule makers hit the mark when it comes to scheduling prime time games on national television. Other times they miss, and occasionally badly.
As it pertains to the Bears-Falcons game in Week 6’s Sunday night matchup, the NFL and NBC couldn’t possibly be any more pleased about the showdown.
The story lines are plentiful. For starters, this will be a rematch of one of the league’s most exciting games from last year, featuring the same two teams in the same venue during the same week number.
If that’s not enough for the casual, non-partisan football fan to tune in, there’s always the intriguing matchup between two of the game’s top quarterbacks. The more established, yet continually developing Jay Cutler, and the up-and-coming Matt Ryan, last year’s offensive rookie of the year.
For those fans that don’t appreciate a good quarterback duel, at least not enough to watch the game, maybe they’ll appreciate that both teams have 3-1 records and will be competing with each other for a possible wild card spot in this year’s playoffs, or trying to keep pace with the undefeated leaders in their respective divisions.
The game will likely be decided by whichever signal caller performs better, but the Bears will be reliant on theirs more than the Falcons will. The Falcons have the benefit of home field advantage and their run game is more established through four games than the Bears’ is. Atlanta is 15th in the league in rushing behind Michael Turner’s 80.8 yards per game, seventh most among running backs. The Bears, meanwhile, are 27th overall in the run department and Matt Forte is averaging 67.8 yards per game, which ranks 17th among running backs.
What that will enable the Falcons to do is run a more balanced offense to keep the Bears from stacking the box or playing deeper off the line to protect against Ryan’s arsenal of weapons, which includes eventual Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez, the ever dangerous Roddy White, and Michael Jenkins.
Both defenses have their problems. The Bears are 20th against the pass and Atlanta is 22nd. The Bears have fared much better against the run, however, ranking 9th whereas the Falcons are ranked 24th.
And in regards to defensive scoring — the stat that matters most — the Falcons have a slight edge in that department. They rank 4th in the league with 15.8 points per game allowed. The Bears are 13th with 19.5 points per game permitted.
Given each team’s ability to keep opponents in check, a shootout might not be likely regardless of how good these two offenses have been. That means field position, lucky breaks, and efficiency, particularly from the quarterback position, will likely determine the outcome of this game.
If it were just a game of quarterback play, I’d take Cutler in a heartbeat and like the Bears’ chances. But when the run game, defense, and crowd noise all play a factor, I don’t like the odds piling up in the Falcons’ favor.