By Joseph Fazio
Atlanta Falcons (3-2) at New England Patriots (4-2) (NBC, 7:30 P.M., Sunday)
It’s the matchup many fans have been waiting for since the NFL released this year’s schedules. The Falcons are heading up to New England to face off the Patriots in a Super Bowl LI rematch on Sunday Night Football. Both teams are not playing the same caliber football that they played last season. For the Falcons, quarterback Matt Ryan has been in a major slump coming off the Super Bowl loss. Through Week 6 last season, Ryan threw for 15 touchdowns and three interceptions. This season, Ryan has thrown for only six touchdowns and six interceptions. The rest of the Falcons’ offense has been picking up the slack. Devonta Freeman, who sits second in the NFL with five rushing touchdowns, leads the offense. The defense of the Falcons are in desperate need of a change, with the team being in the bottom half of the league in combined tackles, sacks, interceptions and forced fumbles. This week’s game will not see the same playstyle the Falcons’ had during the Super Bowl.
First in offense, last in defense and on top of the AFC East, the New England Patriots’ season has been a roller coaster. Quarterback Tom Brady at the age of 40 is still putting up huge numbers. Brady stands on top of with 1,959 passing yards and 13 touchdown passes. With Julian Edelman out for the season, wide receiver Chris Hogan has become Brady’s favorite receiver. Hogan has accounted for five touchdown receptions, second best in the league. There is not much to say about the Patriots’ defense other than they are arguably the worst in the league. The Patriots allow the most total yards per game and the fifth most points per game. The Patriots are in need of a serious change in defense or they will suffer for it come playoff time.
New England 31, Atlanta 28
Cincinnati Bengals (2-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2) (CBS, 3:25 P.M., Sunday)
The Bengals (second) and the Steelers (third) boast two of the best defenses in the NFL. The Bengals’ defense allow the third fewest points per game and the second lowest total yards in the league. The big part the Bengals must work on is their run game. Running backs Jeremy Hill and Joe Mixon have been almost invisible on offense, totaling 285 rushing yards. Quarterback Andy Dalton is again having an average season. Dalton has thrown for 1,220 yards and seven touchdowns, which ranks in the bottom half for quarterbacks. Wide receiver A.J. Green is the only consistent player for the Bengals, ranking second in the league with 504 receiving yards. The Bengals will have to find a way to get around the Steelers’ defense, but the game will likely end with a low score.
The Steelers were able to come out on top last week against the previously undefeated Kansas City Chiefs. The Steelers’ offense was able to seal the game with a 51-yard pass to Antonio Brown with 3:24 left in the game. The Steelers’ defense was able to keep Kareem Hunt, a rookie running back, to only 21 rushing yards. The Steelers continue to be solid on defense, recording 20 total sacks, second best in the league. The play of the Steelers’ offense will play a big part if running back Le’Veon Bell, Brown and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will be able to be on the same page Sunday against the Bengals’ defense.
Pittsburgh 17, Cincinnati 13
Arizona Cardinals (3-3) at Los Angeles Rams (4-2) at Twickenham Stadium, London, England (FOX, 12:00 P.M., Sunday)
The Cardinals and the Rams are heading to London to play in the home of the England national rugby union team. Cardinals running back Adrian Peterson, who was acquired from Saints two weeks ago, rushed for 134 yards and two touchdowns against the Buccaneers. Quarterback Carson Palmer was able to get back into his groove last week, throwing for 283 yards and three touchdowns. Palmer ranks second in passing yards with 1,856, but ranks at the bottom for passing accuracy, completing 61.8 percent. When going up a defense like the Rams, Palmer and the Cardinals’ offense will have to find a way to slip past defenders like inside linebacker Mark Barron, who is fifth in the league in total tackles.
The Los Angeles Rams have made themselves a serious contender in the NFC after a big win against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Rams’ special teams was the star last week. Kick returner Pharoh Cooper returned the opening kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown. Then, running back Malcolm returned a blocked kick eight yards for a touchdown. This week against the Cardinals, quarterback Jarred Goff will need to continue to get yardage for the Rams’ offense. One part Goff needs to work on is his pass accuracy. Goff ranks 37th in the league in accuracy, completing only 60 percent of his passes. Running back Todd Gurley will be the key player on offense, ranking fourth in rushing yards with 521 and third in rushing touchdowns with four. If the Rams’ offense is able to stay on track, they will have no problem against the Cardinals’ defense.
Rams 28, Cardinals 23