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Buffalo Bills vs. Atlanta Falcons Week 17 game preview

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© Jamie Germano / USA TODAY Sports

 

The Buffalo Bills and Atlanta Falcons are at complete opposite ends of the spectrum. In 2016, the Dirty Birds got to where the Bills strive to be, the Super Bowl. We all know what happened after they got out to a 28-3 lead, and ever since, they haven’t been able to get back on top.

 

There’s a fine line between a contender and a pretender in the NFL. For the Falcons this season, that difference is about two wins. Considering they are just two wins behind the Rumbling Herd, the Falcons aren’t that far off. Although, upon closer inspection, they don’t belong anywhere near the playoffs.

 

One area that shows the humongous gap between the two teams is their points for and points allowed this season.

 

  • Falcons points scored: 18.5 (25th in NFL)
  • Falcons points allowed: 26.7 (28th in NFL)

 

  • Bills points scored: 28.5 (3rd in NFL)
  • Bills points allowed: 17.6 (3rd in NFL)

 

For the Bills, their record accurately represents their talent level. The Falcons’ point differential is kind of incredible. How do they allow an average of over eight points more per game than they score yet sit at just a game below .500 at 7-8?

 

A lot of blowout losses, that’s how. When they lose, they really lose. The Falcons have five losses of 20+ points this season. The best teams they’ve beaten are the Miami Dolphins and the New Orleans Saints, and both of those victories were by just two points. 

 

Basically, they’ve clawed their way to seven wins, but when they show up to Highmark Stadium, they’re running into a team that should beat them by 20.

Buffalo Bills Week 17 game details, where to watch

  • Sunday, January 2, 2021
  • Start time: 1:00 PM ET
  • TV channel - FOX
  • Location - Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, New York

 

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© Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Matchups to watch

  • Leslie Frazier vs. Cordarrelle Patterson

It will take a team effort to constrict Cordarrelle Patterson on Sunday. While he doesn’t have one specific area where he’s dominant, he’s a chess piece that moves all over the board with efficiency. 

 

Taking over as a starting running back for the first time in his nine-year career, Patterson has a relatively even split between rushing and receiving this season. 

 

  • Cordarrelle Patterson stats as a runner (2021): 140 attempts, 579 yards, 6 TD, 4.1 YPC
  • Patterson as a pass-catcher (2021): 49 receptions, 523 yards, 5 TD, 10.7 Y/R

 

Patterson has a natural ability to make defenders miss. Whether it’s running over them or using his burst of speed to sprint past, C-Patt can cause problems in a hurry.

 

He also handles their kick returns and is one of the most proficient returners in NFL history, with a total of eight kick return touchdowns in his day. He’s currently tied for first place among career kick return touchdown leaders.

 

The Bills are allowing the 12th-most kick return yards on average in the NFL this season. Patterson figures to receive plenty of opportunities to run one back.

 

By the way, Frazier was the Minnesota Vikings’ head coach in 2013 during Patterson’s rookie year. They’re quite familiar with one another.

 

  • Bills’ secondary vs. Matt Ryan

Matty Ice, remember those days? Listen, I have a lot of respect for Matt Ryan, his story of being largely ignored as a high school prospect, to experiencing a car crash that ended his brother’s playing days, and ending in what may someday be a Hall of Fame gold jacket. Ryan has had a historic career while overcoming several obstacles along the way.

 

He’s not one to consistently stress the defense using the deep ball as Josh Allen can. Ryan prefers to pick his spots, but he can actually hit them, unlike some others. And when he does choose to take risks, he’s been on point. In fact, before Week 16, Ryan led the NFL in passer rating on throws 20+ yards downfield.

 

He’s an accurate thrower who limits mistakes, which could lead to some frustration on gameday from Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde if they don’t receive many opportunities to make plays on errant throws. This brings us to our next matchup.

 

  • Bills’ pass rush vs. Falcons O-line

One area the Bills can overpower their opponent this week, believe it or not, is in the trenches. Matt Ryan takes a lot of sacks, and as he ages, he’s continued to lose mobility. 

 

While the Bills haven’t been consistent with their pass rush this season, they can change that narrative a bit on Sunday against the Falcons. Though the Bills rank sixth-worst in the NFL, tallying just 1.9 sacks per game, the Falcons offensive line isn’t much better. 

 

Atlanta allows 2.1 sacks per game, ranking in the middle of the pack (16th). Yet, the Bills have the athletes to get home against Ryan. 

 

One area the Bills can attack is rookie guard Jalen Mayfield, who has allowed nine sacks and given up a whopping 46 total pressures prior to Week 16, which was by far the highest among guards, according to Pro Football Focus. Ryan has been constantly let down by his protection, and it’s caused him to be knocked down more than any other QB in 2021.

 

While they may not have any pass-rusher who consistently wins his battles, they have 15 different players who have gotten into the sack column this season. Simply put, if they can’t knock Ryan on his ass at least 4-5 times on Sunday, it will be a failure from a pass-rush standpoint.

 

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© Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Buffalo Bills Week 17 game prediction

  • Last season’s record: Buffalo Bills 13-3, reached AFC Conference Championship
  • Atlanta Falcons 4-12, last place in NFC South

 

This matchup should be a cakewalk, but that doesn’t always mean it will be. The Falcons have some playmakers. Kyle Pitts, who hasn’t even been mentioned yet, is a super freak at tight end. More of a size/speed wunderkind wide receiver, who’s simply too large to play wideout, he lands at tight end by default. 

 

But the Falcons’ haven’t been able to utilize him much near the red zone, as the rookie has just one touchdown. He may get his yards, but they still won’t score many points.

 

Even when running the ball, they have the second-fewest rushing yards in the NFL.

 

Sacks per game? By far the fewest at 1.1, a full half-sack below the next worst team.

 

There are not many aspects of the Dirty Birds that should strike fear in Bills Fans for this matchup, other than facing a team on the verge of being eliminated from postseason contention.

 

Expect Buffalo to carry their newfound confidence back home this week, where they can dominate a Falcons team bereft of high-end talent. 

 

The Bills have still come out ahead, even while navigating all their players going through the league’s COVID protocols. It shows this team’s resilience and resolve to band together in the face of everything happening while staying together as a unit. 

A few weeks ago, the playoffs seemed unlikely. Now we look and ask, who dares stand in the way of the Rumbling Herd?

 

Vegas oddsmakers like Buffalo’s matchup a lot for those interested, favoring them by 13.5 to 14.5 points to beat the Falcons. My prediction is much of the same.

 

Game prediction: 41-24 Bills victory

 

Go Bills!!

 

 

BillsFans.com - Andrew Buller-Russ 

 

 

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