Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons have had plenty of success over the past few seasons, but it has yet to lead to a playoff win. The Falcons brought in new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter to help Ryan and wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White form a more dynamic passing attack and take some pressure off running back Michael Turner. That offense gets its first test on Sunday afternoon at the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Chiefs went from division champs in 2010 to 7-9 in 2011 but are optimistic under new head coach Romeo Crennel, who will have a healthy Eric Berry to add to a defense that was sixth against the pass last season. Also returning off a knee injury is Jamaal Charles, who now has Peyton Hillis to alleviate some pressure in the Kansas City backfield.
TV: 1 p.m. ET, FOX. LINE: Falcons -3. O/U: 43.5
ABOUT THE FALCONS (2011: 10-6): Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez will be making his first trip back to Kansas City since being traded prior to the 2009 season. Gonzalez, who is likely playing his final season, is just one of the weapons at the disposal of Ryan. The Falcons averaged more than 25 points in the regular season but did not score on offense in a 24-2 loss at the New York Giants in the first round of the playoffs. Koetter has worked on more deep routes for Jones while getting Jacquizz Rodgers more involved in both the run and pass games. Former 49ers coach Mike Nolan is the new defensive coordinator and he will have former Pro Bowl defensive back Asante Samuel added to the backfield. Atlanta returns 19 of 22 starters from 2011 and is hoping the new coordinators make the difference.
ABOUT THE CHIEFS (2011: 7-9): Kansas City is also hoping a change in staff makes a big difference. After Todd Haley was let go with three games left last season, Crennel kept the team focused and playing hard through the final month to earn himself a second chance at a head coaching job in the NFL. Crennel will still have a heavy hand in the defense, which gets safety Berry back after he missed last season with a torn ACL. Berry was joined by Charles and tight end Tony Moeaki in rehab from knee injuries throughout the 2011 campaign, and all should be ready for Sunday. Quarterback Matt Cassel missed the final seven games with a broken hand in 2011 and will guide a conservative attack based around Charles and Hillis.
1. The Chiefs will be without LB Tamba Hali, who was suspended one game for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
2. The Falcons are 23-0 when Ryan has a quarterback rating over 100.
3. Kansas City CB Brandon Flowers (heel) returned to practice Monday after missing over a month.
PREDICTION: Falcons 24, Chiefs 17
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