Matchup Analysis: Atlanta Falcons at Minnesota Vikings

Vegas Prediction

Vegas says: Falcons 22, Vikings 25

FBG Projections

TeamRushYardsTDCompAttPass YdTDINT

Falcons Rushing offense

Tough matchup vs. the Vikings defense.

Devonta Freeman returns to lead a rushing attack that’s been among the league’s best for several years running. With a smart, determined Freeman working behind a road-grading line, this unit routinely puts up efficient production. They’re strong both inside and out, and they’re particularly effective in short yardage. Still, it’s unlikely Freeman will dominate the backfield any more than when Tevin Coleman was on board. The 27-year-old has battled a number of lower-body injuries, and he may not be up to a 250-touch season. The Falcons won’t want to strain him; they’ll spell him with some combination of Ito Smith and Brian Hill. Smith took on big snaps last year behind Coleman, but looked like an average talent, posting just 3.5 yards per carry. Hill, for his part, has flashed big-play ability. Up front, the Falcons bring back two Pro Bowlers (left tackle Jake Matthews and center Alex Mack) and a pair of new starting guards. It’s a line built to run-block, but it’s in transition, and the backfield’s success will hinge upon the play of the new interior starters.

The Vikings return nearly the same run defense that finished eighth in per-carry yardage (4.1) in 2018. The only big departure was tackle Sheldon Richardson, though that’s an impact that will indeed be felt. Richardson was utterly dominant in his only season as a Viking, while replacement Shamar Stephen is a one-dimensional gap-plugger. A bit more will be asked of linebackers Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr, and they seem up to the task. Kendricks isn’t a special player, but he’s a reliable tackler in the middle. And Barr is a dynamic playmaker fully capable of pursuing inside the box. Behind them, star strong safety Harrison Smith looms as one of football’s best third-level tacklers. If the Vikings can get enough out of Stephen this season, this will once again be a top-level unit.

Falcons Passing offense

Tough matchup vs. the Vikings defense.

Somewhat quietly, Matt Ryan posted a 2018 season that closely rivaled his MVP form of 2016. He wasn’t quite as deadly-efficient, but he nearly matched 2016’s count numbers, finishing with 4,924 yards and 35 touchdowns. And those numbers, while high, may not be destined for a decline in 2019. He’ll continue to throw to a premier receiving duo, which features a future Hall of Famer in his prime and a promising young playmaker. Julio Jones is still firmly entrenched among the league’s three best wideouts. Dating back to 2014, only Antonio Brown has caught more passes, and no one has produced more yardage. Jones does his best work in isolation coverage downfield, where he wins battles with both strength and athleticism, and in the open field, where he’s never an easy tackle after the catch. Jones posted last year, and his prowess helped open up big chunks of secondaries for rookie Calvin Ridley to run through. Ridley certainly peaked early in his debut – he averaged just 46 yards, with 4 touchdowns, over his final 12 games. Still, he showed enough playmaking juice to expect a step forward as an NFL sophomore. Ridley isn’t particularly fast, but has a great, determined burst into his breaks that creates separation for him. His second gear was good enough to produce touchdowns of 75, 75, and 40 as a rookie. Mohamed Sanu remains a reliable set of hands out of the slot, while tight end Austin Hooper was one of football’s most sure-handed targets in 2018, posting an 81% catch rate.

The Minnesota pass defense was one of football’s best in 2018, boasting both a dominant pass rush and a talented, playmaking secondary. Only three teams allowed fewer net yards per attempt (5.7), and no one gave up fewer touchdowns (15). And with virtually all the personnel back, little has changed for 2019’s outlook. The catalyst remains strong safety Harrison Smith, whose range and aggressiveness keep him among the league’s best in coverage. Anthony Harris was a revelation next to him last year, making the seams and middle dangerous territory to threaten the Vikings. There’s a little more vulnerability on the outside, where Trae Waynes remains inconsistent and last year’s first-round pick, Mike Hughes, is working back from ACL surgery. Xavier Rhodes, typically a near-shutdown presence across the field, is coming off his worst season as a pro. Still, in all, this won’t be an easy group to throw on consistently. The secondary gets ample relief from a pass rush that swarms from both outside and in and will return Everson Griffen in full. He and rising superstar Danielle Hunter make up arguably the league’s most dynamic edge-rushing duo.

Vikings Rushing offense

Good matchup vs. the Falcons defense.

Entering Week 15 of last season, the Vikings moved Kevin Stefanski into the coordinator role and immediately became a more run-rooted team. With Dalvin Cook on board, the team is banking heavily on the ground game. Cook lost most of his rookie 2017 to an ACL tear, then the first half of 2018 to a nagging hamstring issue. When healthy, though, he’s been one of football’s most effective runners, averaging 4.7 yards over 207 attempts. After the team switched coordinators last year, Cook averaged 15 carries for 83 yards a game. There’s no reason to doubt his health entering the year, and he looked truly explosive in the preseason, highlighted by an 85-yard cut-and-go touchdown. The Vikings seem comfortable with just two backs in the rotation, so rookie Alexander Mattison will serve as a change of pace. Mattison is a powerful runner who will take some of the interior load – and maybe goal-line work – from Cook’s shoulders. It’s worth noting that our Matt Bitonti isn’t a fan of the Vikings’ front line, ranking it 23rd due to a shaky right side.

The Falcons run defense plummeted to near the bottom of the league in 2018, allowing the league’s eight-most yards per game (124.9) and fifth-most per attempt (4.9). Some of that can be attributed to Deion Jones’ and Keanu Neal’s injuries, which cost both most of the season and forced a handful of shaky reserves into action. Jones is known more for his pass-game skills, but his return brings a marked ground-game upgrade over the likes of Duke Riley and Foye Oluokun. Neal’s loss was nearly as devastating; he’s proven himself an elite box safety, and his replacements also fell well short. Both are back to full strength and in the Week 1 lineup. Still, the biggest and best news for this unit came in July, when star tackle Grady Jarrett re-signed to anchor the middle. Jarrett was thoroughly dominant in 2018, both engulfing blockers and making run stops of his own. His presence means the world for Jones, who’s more effective in clean pursuit than when forced to sift through blocks. This is a unit that while it is not perfect, has an opportunity to rebound from last year's dismal performance.

Vikings Passing offense

Neutral matchup vs. the Falcons defense.

For the most part, Kirk Cousins’ Minnesota debut was a success. He completed 70.1% of his throws, producing nearly 4,300 yards and 30 touchdowns along the way. Still, his overall efficiency left something to be desired. Cousins finished 17th in the league in adjusted net yards per attempt, which factors in sacks and interceptions – below the likes of Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Mullens. In Washington, One concern heading into this week is the health of Stefon Diggs as he missed practice on Wednesday with a hamstring injury. If Diggs is unable to go, this puts a lot of pressure on Adam Thielen and takes away from the overall passing game output. If Diggs is able to go, there is a lot to be excited about. Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs each topped 100 catches last year and the pair averaged 13.7 yards a catch in 2017 before dipping to 11.1 last season. If Cousins has rediscovered his downfield prowess over the preseason, he’ll test the Falcons’ shaky secondary early and often, and he’ll do so with two sure-handed receivers. Chad Beebe beat out draft bust Laquon Treadwell as the third wideout, but the Vikings don’t run many three-wide sets, so tight end Kyle Rudolph and running back Dalvin Cook will absorb most of what’s left over. The team made it a priority to re-sign Rudolph in June, which suggests he’ll play the de facto No. 3 role, working underneath both from the slot and off the line. New addition Josh Doctson isn’t up to speed on the playbook; he looks unlikely to even dress for Week 1, but could be forced into action along with Beebe if Diggs is unable to go.

The Atlanta pass defense tumbled to the bottom of the league in 2018, though much of that collapse can be blamed on an unfortunate rash of injuries. The Week 1 secondary will be nearly the same personnel group that finished top-10 in net yardage per attempt in 2017. The team spent most of 2018 without safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen, as well as Deion Jones, one of football’s best coverage linebackers. With the secondary ravaged and the pass rush underachieving, the unit put up little week-to-week resistance. The return of Allen is most crucial here – he’s long been underrated as a centerfielder type with great playmaking range. Neal and Jones provide stability underneath and in the flats, where the Falcons were shredded last year. Opposing running backs totaled a league-high 120 receptions for 970 yards in 2018. Their presence will move mountains there, and with Desmond Trufant still an upper-tier cornerback, this unit should rebound noticeably.

Matt Ryan (FanDuel: $8000, DraftKings: $6100)

1PROJ-Dodds24362651.50.8270.119.719.719.7 (H=43)19.7 (H=57)
1PROJ-Tremblay25382861.60.9270. (H=49)21.1 (H=64)
1PROJ-Bloom22362461.6111017.817.817.8 (H=36)17.8 (H=48)

Todd Gurley (FanDuel: $7600, DraftKings: $7900)

1PROJ-Dodds13590.62.8240.213.115.914.5 (H=27)15.9 (H=30)
1PROJ-Tremblay11520.63.0260.1121513.5 (H=23)15 (H=27)
1PROJ-Bloom15610.82.0160. (H=25)15.1 (H=27)

Ito Smith (FanDuel: $5400, DraftKings: $4000)

1PROJ-Dodds6210.21.31004.35.65 (H=6)5.6 (H=9)
1PROJ-Tremblay7250.21.2804.55.75.1 (H=6)5.7 (H=10)
1PROJ-Bloom3110.11.0602.33.32.8 (H=2)3.3 (H=3)

Brian Hill (FanDuel: $4500, DraftKings: $3000)

1PROJ-Dodds0000.000000 (H=0)0 (H=0)
1PROJ-Tremblay0000.000000 (H=0)0 (H=0)
1PROJ-Bloom1400.0000.40.40.4 (H=0)0.4 (H=0)

Julio Jones (FanDuel: $8500, DraftKings: $8000)

1PROJ-Dodds6.2890.500011.918.115 (H=25)18.1 (H=37)
1PROJ-Tremblay6.9960.401012.11915.6 (H=27)19 (H=41)
1PROJ-Bloom5.0760.500010.615.613.1 (H=20)15.6 (H=29)

Calvin Ridley (FanDuel: $6500, DraftKings: $5100)

1PROJ-Dodds4.0530.40007.711.79.7 (H=15)11.7 (H=27)
1PROJ-Tremblay3.8500.40207.611.49.5 (H=15)11.4 (H=26)
1PROJ-Bloom4.0610.50009.113.111.1 (H=19)13.1 (H=33)

Laquon Treadwell (FanDuel: $4500, DraftKings: $3000)

1PROJ-Dodds0.000000000 (H=0)0 (H=0)
1PROJ-Tremblay0.000000000 (H=0)0 (H=0)
1PROJ-Bloom0.000000000 (H=0)0 (H=0)

Hayden Hurst (FanDuel: $4400, DraftKings: $2700)

1PROJ-Dodds1.3160. (H=2)3.5 (H=6)
1PROJ-Tremblay2.1230. (H=6)5.6 (H=14)
1PROJ-Bloom2.0290. (H=7)6.1 (H=16)

Luke Stocker (FanDuel: $4000, DraftKings: $2500)

1PROJ-Dodds0.7600.61.31 (H=0)1.3 (H=1)
1PROJ-Tremblay0.880. (H=1)2.2 (H=3)
1PROJ-Bloom0.000000 (H=0)0 (H=0)

Atlanta Falcons (FanDuel: $3500, DraftKings: $2400)

1PROJ-Dodds25.33702.30.90.600. (H=17)7.2 (H=25)
1PROJ-Tremblay25.753732.40.90.600. (H=19)7.6 (H=27)

Kirk Cousins (FanDuel: $7400, DraftKings: $5500)

1PROJ-Dodds24352571.80.8380.120.620.620.6 (H=50)20.6 (H=68)
1PROJ-Tremblay25382721.90.9390.121.821.821.8 (H=56)21.8 (H=75)
1PROJ-Bloom20302271.40.6250.117.417.417.4 (H=38)17.4 (H=51)

Dalvin Cook (FanDuel: $7400, DraftKings: $6000)

1PROJ-Dodds15720.63.6290.214.918.516.7 (H=35)18.5 (H=52)
1PROJ-Tremblay13620.43.3250.111.71513.4 (H=24)15 (H=36)
1PROJ-Bloom17710.54.0310.214.418.416.4 (H=34)18.4 (H=51)

Alexander Mattison (FanDuel: $4900, DraftKings: $3800)

1PROJ-Dodds5220.20.9704.154.6 (H=5)5 (H=8)
1PROJ-Tremblay4190.10.6402.93.53.2 (H=3)3.5 (H=4)
1PROJ-Bloom4150.20.0002.72.72.7 (H=2)2.7 (H=2)

Mike Boone (FanDuel: $4500, DraftKings: $3000)

1PROJ-Dodds1700.3200.91.21 (H=0)1.2 (H=0)
1PROJ-Tremblay280.10.4301.72.11.9 (H=1)2.1 (H=2)
1PROJ-Bloom31300.0001.31.31.3 (H=0)1.3 (H=1)

Adam Thielen (FanDuel: $7400, DraftKings: $6800)

1PROJ-Dodds6.1770.500010.716.813.8 (H=25)16.8 (H=38)
1PROJ-Tremblay6.4800.602011.818.215 (H=29)18.2 (H=44)
1PROJ-Bloom7.0860.4000111814.5 (H=27)18 (H=43)

Chad Beebe (FanDuel: $4800, DraftKings: $3000)

1PROJ-Dodds2.1280.200046.15.1 (H=7)6.1 (H=15)
1PROJ-Tremblay2.0270.20003.95.94.9 (H=6)5.9 (H=14)
1PROJ-Bloom1.01100001.12.11.6 (H=0)2.1 (H=2)

Tajae Sharpe (FanDuel: $4500, DraftKings: $3000)

1PROJ-Dodds1.1140.100023.12.6 (H=2)3.1 (H=4)
1PROJ-Tremblay1.2150.10002.13.32.7 (H=2)3.3 (H=5)
1PROJ-Bloom1.0130.10001.92.92.4 (H=2)2.9 (H=4)

Kyle Rudolph (FanDuel: $5100, DraftKings: $3300)

1PROJ-Dodds3.0330. (H=10)8.1 (H=22)
1PROJ-Tremblay3.3340. (H=11)8.5 (H=24)
1PROJ-Bloom2.0230. (H=5)5.5 (H=11)

Irv Smith (FanDuel: $4000, DraftKings: $2700)

1PROJ-Dodds1.2140.123.22.6 (H=2)3.2 (H=5)
1PROJ-Tremblay1.3140.123.32.7 (H=2)3.3 (H=5)
1PROJ-Bloom2.0250. (H=7)5.7 (H=15)

Dan Bailey (FanDuel: $--, DraftKings: $--)


Minnesota Vikings (FanDuel: $4300, DraftKings: $3300)

1PROJ-Dodds21.73532.70.80.600.3888 (H=17)8 (H=22)
1PROJ-Tremblay21.753712.50.90.700. (H=20)8.8 (H=26)