This Sunday, the 13-1 Kansas City Chiefs head back to Arrowhead Stadium to take on the 4-10 Atlanta Falcons, who are on a three-game losing streak and have also lost four of their last five, with their lone win being the comedic 43-6 thrashing of the Las Vegas Raiders.
The Falcons will also be without star wide receiver Julio Jones due to a hamstring injury that has been impacting Jones for a large portion of the season. That said, the Falcons are still a team with plenty of talent and have shown some good flashes, so they shouldn't be taken lightly, even by the Chiefs.
Fact to Know: The Falcons have the second-highest go-rate on recommended fourth downs.
This is something that we should certainly take note of. Entering Week 16, the Falcons are the second-highest in go-rate on fourth downs recommended by the New York Times Fourth-Down Bot when they have a win probability of 10% or higher, going for it on over 60% of these situations.
On those fourth-down attempts, the Falcons have a 0.670 EPA (13th) and a 57.1% success rate (19th), so it could have been better for them, but it has still been very much worth it. Last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Falcons went for it on 4th and 2 from the Bucs' 46-yard line while leading 7-0 in the second quarter. They went for it and completed a seven-yard pass to Russell Gage, which led to a 12-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Ridley. Going for it on the proper fourth down situations should pay off in the long run if you have even a halfway-decent quarterback. This aggressiveness makes the Falcons more threatening and more competitive in their games.
Matchup to Watch: Calvin Ridley vs. L'Jarius Sneed
In some of these recent matchups to watch, I have been consistently going with Chiefs offensive players, so it's time to highlight a defensive player that has really stepped up and made a big impact on the field in most of his games this season: rookie cornerback L'Jarius Sneed.
Sneed just received a remarkable 90.3 grade from Pro Football Focus (PFF) this past week against the Saints and is currently, by far, the top rookie cornerback in yards allowed per coverage snap at 0.88, with no other rookie cornerback under 1.00. He is also tied with Los Angeles Rams safety Jordan Fuller for the most interceptions by a rookie with three. Sneed has been one of the best rookie defensive players in the NFL, without a doubt.
Then there's Ridley, who has been huge in his third season with the Falcons. Ridley has 1,192 receiving yards (sixth-most), nine touchdowns (ninth-most) and has an 86.2 grade from PFF (tied for 10th-best among wide receivers). Ridley is one of just numerous great wide receivers to come from Alabama that are crushing the competition, whether it's players still on the Crimson Tide, like Devonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle, or ones playing on Sundays, like Amari Cooper, Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and Ridley's current teammate, Julio Jones, who will be unable to play against the Chiefs. If Sneed gets put on Ridley for the majority of the game, that will be an amazing matchup to watch.
Key to the Game: How does the Chiefs' interior offensive line hold up?
The Falcons, especially without Julio Jones, don't have that much going for them, but their two studs on defense are always a threat, interior defender Grady Jarrett and linebacker Deion Jones. Jarrett is one of the top pass-rushers in the league, ranking fourth in total pressures among interior defenders with 54 and hitting 40 or more pressures in each of his last five seasons. Jarrett has been and continues to be a wrecking ball for interior offensive lines across the league, similar to chiefs interior lineman Chris Jones.
Deion Jones, meanwhile, is more known for his coverage abilities as a linebacker, helping him to a Pro Bowl before, but this season, he has greatly progressed his threat as a pass-rusher. Prior to this season, Jones had 25 pressures and two sacks in his four NFL seasons. This season alone, he has 17 pressures and five sacks, which is tied for the most on the team with Jarrett. The Chiefs interior offensive line, likely repeating with Nick Allegretti, Austin Reiter and Stefen Wisniewski, have to be aware of that newer development of Jones' game and how that could affect the offense.
Prediction: Chiefs 38, Falcons 28
I don't expect the Falcons to give that much of a threat to the Chiefs, but I think it'll be closer than we'd like to see and it will continue messing with Chiefs fans who have been wanting another blowout in recent weeks.
The Falcons could be better than their record and they have some talent, but the Chiefs are simply the best team in the league and shouldn't fall to a team like this. Mahomes puts up three touchdowns, Kelce breaks multiple records and the Chiefs clinch home-field advantage en route to a potential third consecutive AFC Championship game at Arrowhead Stadium.