What: Atlanta Falcons at St. Louis Rams, Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis, Missouri
When: Sunday, November 21, 2010, 4:05 PM, FOX (FOX 5, WAGA locally) regional coverage map; Announcers – Sam Rosen, Tim Ryan
The Friday Line: Falcons -3, Over/Under 43 (Open: Falcons -3, O/U 43)
Injury Report – Falcons: LB Sean Weatherspoon (knee) practiced for the first time in week, but was limited on Thursday before fully participating in practice on Friday. He is questionable. DE John Abraham (groin) missed practice on Wednesday and was limited for the rest of the week. He is also listed as questionable.
TE Justin Peelle was limited on Wednesday before returning to full practice for the first time since undergoing sports hernia surgery. LB Curtis Lofton (knee) was limited on Wednesday but practiced the rest of the week. They are both probable.
Injury Report – Rams: T Rodger Saffold (ankle) was limited on Wednesday before returning to full practice for the rest of the week. He is probable. P Donnie Jones (calf) and WR Danario Alexander (knee) were limited in practice this week. Jones is listed as probable while Alexander is questionable.
DT Fred Robbins was limited in practice on Thursday and Friday is questionable. S James Butler (ankle) and FB Brit Miller (head) were limited in practice on Wednesday before returning to full participation on Thursday and are probable for Sunday’s game.
Other noteables: The Falcons have the best record in the NFC and are tied with the New York Jets and the New England Patriots for best record in the NFL at 7-2.
What you need to know: Atlanta perched itself atop the NFL standings with a thrilling 26-21 come-from-behind win over the Baltimore Ravens last Thursday. Forty-five seconds after the Ravens took a 21-20 lead with a late touchdown pass, Matt Ryan marched the Dirty Birds 80 yards down the field, finding Roddy White with a 33-yard TD pass with 20 seconds left for the win before a national TV audience.
St. Louis suffered a heartbreaking 23-20 loss in overtime to the division rival San Francisco 49ers last Sunday. The Rams couldn’t stop the Niners on 3rd-and-32 and 4th-and-18 in the game’s final minutes as San Francisco marched down the field for the game-tying TD. Joe Nedney kicked a 29-yard game-winning field goal with 9:38 left in the extra session to propel the Rams (4-5) out of a tie for first place in the NFC West.
It will be a good day for Atlanta if: The game plan in this one is simple: stay the course. The Falcons clearly are the better team on paper and if they can execute anywhere close to what they did in the first three quarters against the Ravens, they should handily take care of the Rams in St. Louis.
But that won’t be easy. The Rams boast the league’s sixth-best rush defense and boast a capable pass rush with bookend defensive ends James Hall and Chris Long. In order for Atlanta to succeed, they are going to need big days from the offensive line and running back Michael Turner, who is coming off his worst rushing effort of the season against Baltimore.
Protecting Ryan long enough to allow him to see his receivers downfield will also be the difference between a convincing win and a nail biter.
It will be a bad day for Atlanta if: Rookie Rams QB Sam Bradford is drawing a lot of comparisons to a young Ryan – and with good reason. Much like Ryan, the No. 1 overall pick has surprised many by making a seamless transition to the NFL and has gotten better as the season has progressed.
The former Oklahoma standout has not thrown an interception over his last four games, while passing for over 750 yards and six scores. He is even better at home, posting a 3-1 record at the Edward James Dome.
And the kid does his homework. Unlike in past weeks where veteran QBs have dismissed CB Brent Grimes as the “short guy,” Bradford knew Grimes by name. If the Dirty Birds are to prevail, the front seven need to disrupt Bradford, the Grimes – needs to come up with his weekly big play and the Falcons secondary must avoid coughing up the big play. A big day by Bradford could equal doom for the Dirty Birds.
Prediction: I’ve had a terrible time figuring out the Dirty Birds. When I say they win big, they prevail in a close one. When I say they win narrowly, they get blown out. When I say they will lose, they end up figuring out a way to win.
My instincts say that the Falcons should win this game and cover the spread. They are a talented, well-balanced team that can win via the air or the ground and the Rams are basically the 2008 Falcons – a surprising team that is gaining some recognition around the league, but are not necessarily ready to compete with the big guys.
Meanwhile, the Falcons proved that they can beat any team that doesn’t play in Pennsylvania. St. Louis hangs around for a while in this one before Atlanta soars to 8-2 with an eight-point win. Nelly will be deeply saddened.
Atlanta 28, St. Louis 20
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