ATLANTA — The Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons have found different ways to win despite ranking near the bottom of the league in yards allowed.
Those winning formulas will be tested when the two teams currently on pace for the playoffs meet Sunday.
The Chiefs (8-3) rank 28th in total defense but lead the NFL with 24 takeaways and a plus-14 turnover differential. The Falcons (7-4) rank 27th in total defense but lead the NFL with 32.5 points per game — a franchise-record pace.
“You could argue that they're the best in the league right now,” said Chiefs coach Andy Reid of the Atlanta offense.
Bolstered by the return of running back Tevin Coleman from a hamstring injury and the continued emergence of speedy receiver Taylor Gabriel, the Falcons' offense looked deep and explosive in last week's 38-19 win over Arizona. It was the most points allowed this season by the Cardinals, who entered the game ranked first in fewest yards and passing yards allowed.
Matt Ryan completed passes to eight players and Gabriel scored on screen plays of 25 and 35 yards. Gabriel has scored in four straight games.
“They just go and run their offense with a purpose,” said Kansas City strong safety Eric Berry. “They're not just out there just running plays. They have a specific plan and they know they're a good offense. They run their plays like they know they're a good offense. They're very confident in what they do. … We know we have a challenge.”
The Chiefs are 7-0 when winning the turnover battle this season. The 24 takeaways have led to 72 points.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn, who frequently emphasizes takeaways with his mantra of “It's about the ball,” appreciates the Chiefs' success.
“Plus-14 on the year, that's a hell of a year,” Quinn said Thursday, adding the turnover battle “is going to be a real factor in the game.”
It's an important game to the teams' playoff hopes. The Falcons lead the NFC South, only one game ahead of Tampa Bay. The Chiefs are one game behind AFC West leader Oakland.
Here are some more things to watch Sunday:
WHAT A RUSH: Justin Houston's second game back from offseason knee surgery resulted in three sacks last Sunday night in Denver. Houston looked every bit the four-time Pro Bowl pass rusher he was before requiring surgery to his left ACL in February. It came at a good time, too, because Dee Ford — who has 10 sacks this season — has been dealing with a hamstring injury. Ford returned to practice this week but it's unclear whether he will play Sunday.
DECIMATED DEFENSE: Atlanta has lost defensive end Adrian Clayborn for at least a few weeks to a left knee injury. He had surgery Tuesday. Clayborn is second on the team with 4 1/2 sacks.
It will be the team's third game without top cornerback Desmond Trufant, placed on injured reserve this week with a torn pectoral muscle. The defense already has lost linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and defensive end Derrick Shelby to season-ending injuries, and has had linebackers De'Vondre Campbell and Deion Jones and safety Keanu Neal miss time.
TYREEK THE FREAK: Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill scored touchdowns through the air, on the ground and on a free kick return against the Broncos, earning him offensive player of the week honors. The speedy rookie has been a breakout star for the Chiefs, and his importance has only increased with Jeremy Maclin dealing with a groin injury. Maclin also returned to practice this week, but his availability against Atlanta remains in question — and even if he does play, will he be close to 100 percent?
TAKE IT AWAY: The Chiefs' big-play defense is led by cornerback Marcus Peters, who ranks second in the NFL with five interceptions and three fumble recoveries.
GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS: The Falcons are on pace to easily surpass their record 442 points scored in their 1998 Super Bowl season. The defense is on pace to allow 439 points. The only three teams in Atlanta history to allow more than 439 points finished with fewer than five wins.