Here are five things to know about the Atlanta Falcons (3-0, first in NFC South), who host the Bills next Sunday.
1. Last game: The Falcons narrowly escaped Detroit on Sunday, winning 30-26 in one of the strangest endings in recent memory. The Lions’ Matt Stafford thought he had hit Golden Tate for a game-winning touchdown with nine seconds left in regulation, but the replay ruled Tate down short of the goal line. Since Detroit was out of timeouts and a replay review stopped a running clock, a 10-second runoff was assessed, ending the game. The Falcons moved the ball well Sunday, gaining 151 yards on the ground and 294 through the air, though Matt Ryan threw three interceptions. They held the Lions to 324 yards of total offense.
2. Hungry for more: Matt Ryan told Sports Illustrated this summer that he went into work the Tuesday after the Super Bowl and dug into the tape of their collapse against the Patriots. Then he did it again on Wednesday, and a third time Thursday. But since then, Ryan hasn’t been tempted to relive the agony of blowing a 28-3 lead. He’s focused only on a return to the biggest stage in American sports, and he has the Falcons on the right path through Week Three. They’ve already taken down NFC contenders in Green Bay and Detroit. Ryan is looking to repeat as league MVP and running back Devonta Freeman is working on his third straight 1,000-yard season. Can the Bills show they’re more than just a bump in the road to a title contender?
3. The Bills’ defensive backfield will be majorly tested again: The Bills did a good job of bending but not breaking in pass defense Sunday against the Broncos’ receiving duo of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, holding the pair to 13 receptions on 24 targets for 173 yards and no touchdowns. They also took away the big plays, not allowing a reception longer than 29 yards. But Atlanta will pose an even bigger threat to the Bills’ secondary composed of all newcomers. Rookie Tre’Davious White will face his biggest test yet against all-pro Julio Jones, who some believe is the league’s best receiver. If the Bills lock him down, there’s still Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel to deal with. But the biggest factor of all may be Ryan – far and away the best passer the Bills have faced yet. We’ll see what the secondary is made of in this game.
4. Does Matt Ryan have McDermott’s number? Bills coach Sean McDermott faced the Falcons twice a year while serving as the defensive coordinator with the Panthers, but Ryan seemed to get the better of the QB versus defensive coordinator matchup, winning seven of 12 meetings. Check out Ryan’s numbers against McDermott: A 68.6 completion percentage and a quarterback rating of 98.9, with 21 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. And here’s one that has to stick with McDermott: After beating the Falcons 38-0 to improve to 13-0 in 2015, the Falcons ruined the Panthers’ perfect season two weeks later in a 20-13 defeat.
5. Look at that stadium: It feels like it’s only a matter of time before the NFL starts putting the heat on the Bills to build a new stadium. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone put a bug in Terry Pegula’s ear about that this week as the Bills head to Atlanta’s brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which carried an estimated price tag of $1.6 billion … or $200 million more than Pegula paid for the entire Bills franchise.