The Denver Broncos (3-4) and Atlanta Falcons (2-6) have gotten off to disappointing starts in 2020, but the winner of Sunday’s game will be on a winning streak as we move into the second half of the season.
Denver Broncos vs. Atlanta Falcons
Sunday, November 8, 2020 – 01:00 PM EDT at Mercedes-Benz Stadium
The Falcons are a 3.5-point favorite at most betting sites. Atlanta has been favored in all home games this year, but has a 0-4 record in those games. Despite the 2-6 record, the Falcons have only been outscored by 15 points this season. Denver erased a 24-3 lead last week to defeat the Chargers, who are considered the AFC equivalent of Atlanta for their history of blowing leads.
When Denver Has the Ball
The Broncos were decimated by injuries this season, but the offense has gotten healthier in recent weeks. Most of the intended starters are available outside of Courtland Sutton. However, rookie wide receiver Jerry Jeudy just had a career-high 73 receiving yards against the Chargers.
Tim Patrick has arguably been the most impressive Denver receiver this year, and tight end Noah Fant is the third Denver skill player over 300 receiving yards. They have enough weapons combined with a rushing attack that has gained over 100 yards in all but one game this year to give the Falcons problems.
Quarterback Drew Lock has not had a good sophomore season so far. He ranks next to last in ESPN’s QBR (37.6), only beating out Dwayne Haskins (31.4), who was benched in Washington. Lock was able to throw for three touchdowns in last week’s comeback win, but so far in 10 career starts he has only been able to throw 11 touchdowns to eight interceptions with 6.5 yards per attempt. Lock has led the Broncos to more than 23 points in three of his 10 starts.
Atlanta’s defense was having a historically bad start to 2020, but things have improved in recent weeks. Especially after head coach Dan Quinn (0-5) was fired and replaced by interim coach Raheem Morris (2-1). The Falcons have not allowed more than 23 points in the last four games, including a season-best game in Carolina last week, where they allowed 17 points and 304 yards. In the first seven games, the Falcons allowed six 300-yard passers and Nick Foles threw three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter for a Chicago win.
Denver’s offense is 30th in yards per drive and 29th in the red zone, so this is a good opportunity for the Falcons to continue showing defensive improvement and keep the game winnable for Matt Ryan and the offense.
When Atlanta Has the Ball
Atlanta’s struggles at closing out games have overshadowed another solid offensive season from Matt Ryan and company. Ryan leads the NFL with 2,462 passing yards, but the Falcons are in another familiar spot: No. 7 in yards per drive, but only No. 13 in points per drive. This happens because the Falcons only rank 26th in scoring in the red zone.
For all his greatness, Julio Jones notoriously is not a weapon in the red zone and does not score many touchdowns. He had two against Minnesota and none in any other game this year. Calvin Ridley got off to a great start, but he has been quiet in recent weeks and could miss this game with a foot injury. Todd Gurley leads Atlanta with eight rushing touchdowns. However, he would like to have that one back against Detroit that led to a game-winning drive for the Lions. Atlanta’s rushing offense has not been highly effective this season, ranked 31st in DVOA.
Denver’s defense ranks 10th in DVOA against the pass and 14th against the run. Vic Fangio’s unit has done a respectable job after losing superstar Von Miller to a preseason injury. Bradley Chubb has stepped up with 5.5 sacks in the last four games alone to lead the team.
The Broncos have not forced many turnovers, but they have been the third-best defense at allowing touchdowns in the red zone. Atlanta reportedly added an extra red zone session in practice this week to work on what has been a weakness for years and is a strength for Denver this season.
If you are looking for a game to be decided by one score for your NFL picks this week, this one should be a good choice. Atlanta’s offense vs. Denver’s defense is a strength matchup, while the Atlanta defense and Denver offense are both wild cards.
The spread and total figure this to be in the range of a 27-23 win for Atlanta, which lines up with how I see the game unfolding. Atlanta certainly has the better quarterback in this matchup as we are still learning if Lock is cut out for the long term in Denver. While it is always scary to trust the Falcons with a late lead, the defensive improvement over the last month feels legitimate.
Sometimes you just have to fire a coach to right the ship.