Can Chiefs rebound from emotional victory over Denver?
Timing in life can be the great decider and for the Atlanta Falcons this Sunday the timing of the NFL schedule is very good.
The Falcons (7-4) host the Kansas City Chiefs (8-3) and that alone is not evidence of great timing. What does is the condition the visitors will arrive in when the ball is kicked off just after 1 p.m. ET at the Georgia Dome.
Last Sunday night, Andy Reid took a banged up K.C. team into Denver and played 75 minutes before escaping the Rockies with a 30-27 victory. It was a rock 'em, sock 'em defensive struggle for most of the evening until Cairo Santos kicked a 34-yard field goal that caromed off the left upright and was good.
"We're not satisfied with this," Reid said of the victory and how it figures into the 2016 season. "We're going down to play a good Atlanta team, so we've got to make sure we take care of ourselves and come back and practice the way we need to this week."
View from the sidelines: NFL cheerleaders 2016.
Another edge for the Falcons is the game against the Chiefs sits on the schedule between two big division games for K.C. -- Denver last Sunday and Oakland coming up next Thursday.
The Raiders will visit Arrowhead Stadium on Dec. 8. They carry a 9-2 record into their Sunday game against Buffalo.
Can the Chiefs rebound from their lengthy and emotional victory over Denver?
"It's that time of the season you can see the light at the end of the tunnel and if you're in position to strike, I don't think you can afford to take games off," Reid said. "At this time, that can't even be an issue. Every game is so important right now."
What makes it a big Sunday for the Falcons is they hold just a one-game lead in the NFC South, with the surging Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-5) nipping at their heels. After playing Kansas City, they do not face an opponent in their closing four games that has a winning record.
"Look too far down the line we're talking about six, seven, eight weeks down the line doing what you do every day just becomes a means to an end and that's the total opposite of what we do," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "The main thing is being here now and how much can we improve."
The game will present quite a contrast in offenses. With Matt Ryan at quarterback, the Falcons are one of the most prolific groups in the NFL, ranking among the league leaders in yards gained (3rd), points scored (first) and offensive touchdowns (second).
Then there is quarterback Alex Smith and the Chiefs' offense. Nowhere in the top levels of NFL statistics can the K.C. offense be found.
The Chiefs are ranked No. 27 in offensive yards and have scored just 20 offensive touchdowns. They make the top half of the league numbers in only two areas: interception percentage (only four in 402 attempts) and on fourth-down conversions (77.8 percent.)
Yet somehow the Chiefs continue to win -- they've grabbed six of their last seven games and have posted a 19-4 record in regular and postseason games dating to October 2015.
"Sometimes there are things that don't show up on the stat sheet and you say --- man, this guy is playing at a high level," Quinn said of Smith. "It's the decision-making, it's creating a scramble to go for a first down and it's putting the ball in the correct spot. We are all so impressed by his ability to make the right decision against the right coverage."
Atlanta's offensive success has been built on Ryan (114.3 passer rating with 26 touchdown throws and six interceptions), wide receiver Julio Jones (65 catches for 1,140 yards) and running back Devonte Freeman (998 offensive yards as runner-receiver.) Another factor has been the health of their offensive starters: The same five offensive linemen have opened each game.
"You could argue that they're the best in the league right now," Reid said of Atlanta's offense. "They're doing a nice job; explosive in all phases."
That's not so much the case with the Falcons' defense. Just this week they placed their best cover man, cornerback Desmond Trufant, on injured reserve with a torn pectoral muscle that he suffered in October.
The Falcons will also face the Chiefs without defensive end Adrian Clayborn, who will miss several games with a knee injury suffered in Atlanta's victory last Sunday over Arizona.
The Falcons defense' ranks last in the NFL in stopping the passing game, giving up an average of 282 yards per game.
This season, the Chiefs have not been a powerful passing attack, averaging just 231.7 yards per game and Smith has thrown only 10 touchdown passes. They do have two weapons with tight end Travis Kelce (57 catches for 675 yards) and speedy rookie wide receiver Tyreek Hill (seven overall touchdowns and 110 all-purpose yards per game.)
Hill was chosen as the AFC offensive player of the week for his two touchdowns against Denver.