Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons take on the Buffalo Bills, aim to remain unbeaten. Photo by David Tulis/UPI
BUFFALO BILLS (2-1) AT ATLANTA FALCONS (3-0)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, Mercedes-Benz Stadium: CBS, announcers Greg Gumbel, Trent Green, Jamie Erdahl (field reporter).
SERIES HISTORY: 12th regular-season meeting. Falcons lead, 7-4. Atlanta has won the past four meetings, including a 34-31 win in the teams’ most recent matchup Dec. 1, 2013. Buffalo is seeking its first victory against Atlanta since Nov. 12, 1995.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The contest matches strength against strength as Atlanta’s high-powered offense squares off against Buffalo’s punishing defense. The Falcons rank fifth in the NFL with 29.0 points per game, while the Bills are No. 1 on the opposite side of the ball with only 12.3 points allowed per contest.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan will try to bounce back from a three-interception performance against the Detroit Lions in Week 3. On the season, Ryan has passed for 867 yards, four touchdowns and three picks.
The Bills are the only team in the NFL that has not allowed a passing touchdown. Yet Buffalo must focus on the run as well as the pass against Atlanta, which offers a variety of ways to score. Falcons running back Devonta Freeman is averaging 4.4 yards a carry and has four touchdowns in three games.
A solid defense will not be enough for the Buffalo to win. The Bills must improve upon their season-to-date rankings in points per game (16.7, No. 25 in the NFL) and yards per game (285.3, No. 26).
The Falcons’ defense ranks in the middle of the pack so far this year. They are No. 17 in points per game allowed (22.0) and No. 15 in yards per game allowed (330.7).
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
–Falcons WR Julio Jones vs. Bills CB Tre’Davious White, who had his first career interception last week. Jones is coming off a back injury but returned to practice on a limited basis to prepare for the Bills. He remains in search of his first touchdown reception of 2017. White, who is a first-round pick from LSU, has four pass breakups in his first three games. He held up well against Denver’s Demaryius Thomas last week. White was targeted 10 times and allowed five catches for 85 yards.
–Bills DE Shaq Lawson vs. Falcons RT Ty Sambrailo. Lawson already has two sacks in three games and will look to improve upon that total against Sambrailo, who could be making his second start of the season. Lawson, the former Clemson standout, is off to a fine start with 10 tackles. Sambrailo was strong in the run game against the Detroit Lions a week ago, but he had some issues in pass protection. He needs a strong bounce-back performance in order to help QB Matt Ryan stay on his feet.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
–Questionable: DE Shaq Lawson (groin)
–Out: S Ricardo Allen (concussion), LB Vic Beasley (hamstring), T Ryan Schraeder (concussion), DE Courtney Upshaw (ankle, knee), RB Terron Ward (neck, shoulder)
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: CB E.J. Gaines joined the Bills in the trade that sent WR Sammy Watkins to the Los Angeles Rams, and the deal did not go over very well in Buffalo. Gaines wasn’t even the primary part of the return and was considered an afterthought compared to the 2018 second-round draft pick Buffalo obtained. However, Gaines came in and won the starting job across the way from rookie Tre’Davious White, and he has played very well in the first three games as the Bills’ defense has yet to allow a touchdown pass. Last week against the Broncos, Gaines was targeted 12 times and allowed only four receptions for 39 yards. He also made an interception. He has been a pleasant surprise on the Bills’ surprisingly effective defense, and he will need to stay sharp again against a high-powered Atlanta offense.
FAST FACTS: Bills RB LeSean McCoy is one of three active players who has 400-plus receptions and 9,000-plus rushing yards. The other active players are Jets RB Matt Forte and Colts RB Frank Gore. … Falcons QB Matt Ryan has passed for a touchdown in 22 straight games, which is the longest active streak in the NFL. … Bills LB Preston Brown has registered 380 tackles since he entered the NFL in 2014, which marks the fourth-highest total in that span. Brown led the team with 10 tackles last week. … Falcons DT Dontari Poe has a sack and a forced fumble in his past two contests against the Bills.
PREDICTION: The Bills deserve respect, but a road game against the high-flying Falcons is no easy task. Look for Atlanta’s offense to weather Buffalo’s stingy defense and find a way to get in the end zone.
OUR PICK: Falcons, 27-17.