Opponent: Dallas Cowboys Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta Time: 8:20 p.m.
Point Spread (Danny Sheridan’s odds as published in USA Today): Atlanta is favored by 4 1/2 with an over of 47.
Key Offensive Matchup: The Cowboys are particularly depleted at linebacker where Dan Connor has been ruled out with a neck injury on top of linebacker Sean Lee (toe), who was the team’s leading tackler when Dallas placed him on season-ending injured reserve. Orie Lemon replaced Connor in practice this week in the base 3-4 defense and veteran Ernie Sims replaced Lemon in passing downs. Sims is a seven-year veteran who was unsigned until playing his first game last week. Lemon, 25, has only played in four games this season – the only four games of his career. The Falcons have historically struggled to run the ball against 3-4 teams in recent seasons, but those injuries could represent an opportunity for the Falcons. Last week coming out of the bye week, the Falcons had their best productivity of the season, running the ball for 146 yards on 37 carries. Peter Konz got the first start of his career at right guard for Garrett Reynolds and likely will again as Reynolds has been ruled out with a bad back. The Cowboys have a top passing attack and rank third in the NFL in time of possession so running the ball successfully and keeping Dallas off the field will help a Falcons’ defense that gives up a lot of yards.
Key Defensive Matchup: The Cowboys own the league’s seventh-best offense and third-ranked passing game, which could give the Falcons trouble, especially with starting linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, the team’s leading tackler, out with an ankle injury. Akeem Dent, a first-year starter, will play in nickel situations and the only other time that happened this season the Falcons gave up the most passing yards of their season (353 to Oakland). The match-up of Dent going up at times against Dallas tight end Jason Witten should be of particular concern, as Witten caught a franchise-record 18 passes last week. The Falcons, who rank fourth in the league in turnover differential at plus-10, must force Cowboys’ turnover-prone quarterback Tony Romo (13 interceptions against nine touchdown passes, two fumbles lost) into turnovers. If not, they could face a long day.
Inactive: For Atlanta: wide receiver Kevin Cone, quarterback Dominique Davis, guard Garrett Reynolds, defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi, defensive tackle Travian Robertson, tackle Lamar Holmes, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon; for Dallas, wide receiver Andre Holmes, safety Charlie Peprah, safety Matt Johnson, linebacker Dan Connor, center Phil Costa, defensive tackle Sean Lissemore, running back DeMarco Murray.