Falcons go for 4-0 start against Bills
The Atlanta Falcons will look to remain undefeated through one quarter of the regular season when they host the Buffalo Bills on Sunday afternoon.
Atlanta (3-0) has won its first three games by an average of seven points. The Falcons will play their second game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium after a grand-opening win over the Green Bay Packers on Sept. 17.
Another tough test awaits the Falcons as Buffalo (2-1) comes to town. The Bills have achieved early success under first-year coach Sean McDermott, who has overseen wins over the New York Jets and Denver Broncos.
The upcoming game 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 points per game and the Bills are No. 1 on the opposite side of the ball with only 12.3 points allowed per game.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan will try to bounce back from a three-interception performance against the Detroit Lions in Week 3. For 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.
"I think their defense has done a good job," Ryan said to reporters this week. "The secondary has been stout. The defense in general hasn't given up many points. They have played really well in the first three weeks."
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 per carry and has four touchdowns in three games.
A dependable ground game could set the stage for Ryan to take some chances deep downfield. Wide receiver Julio Jones has been limited in practice because of a back injury but hopes to be fully effective by Sunday.
"We didn't really hit any in the last game, but we've been pretty efficient throwing the ball down the field," Ryan said. "It backs things off if we are willing and able to take shots down the field when they give us looks to do it. We're going to continue to do that. We feel like we are going to hit them when we get those opportunities."
Buffalo's defensive linemen will be key to preventing Ryan from feeling comfortable in the pocket and orchestrating long scoring drives. The Bills are hopeful that defensive tackle Marcell Dareus will return from an ankle injury that sidelined him a week ago.
"I'm feeling good," Dareus said. "We're going to take it day by day and see how things go. Just trying to get used to the braces I have now and get my feet under me. Just trying to check the soreness and keep moving forward."
A solid defense alone will not be enough for the Buffalo to win. McDermott's club will need to improve upon its 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 allowed (22.0) and No. 15 in yards per game allowed (330.7).
Injured Atlanta linebacker Vic Beasley (hamstring) resumed running this week but does not figure to play in Week 4. Defensive lineman Courtney Upshaw (ankle) also likely remains out.
Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor will look to stay hot after a sparkling performance in Week 3 against Denver. Taylor went 20 of 26 for 213 yards and two touchdowns to finish with a 126.0 passer rating, which was the fourth-best output of his career.
Bills running back LeSean McCoy is averaging only 2.9 yards per game this season, which is a far cry from his 5.4 average in 2016. McCoy still is looking for his first rushing touchdown of the season.
"Each week is going to call for different things, but we have to stay true to our identity," Taylor told the Bills' official website. "We showed we can be more than multiple in our passing attack. Whether it's using keepers to keep a defense honest on the back side, it's ultimately going to help (McCoy)."
Atlanta has won the past four games in the series, including a 34-31 squeaker in the most recent matchup against the Bills on Dec. 1, 2013. The Bills are looking for their first win over the Falcons since Nov. 12, 1995.
Updated September 28, 2017