This Thursday’s big-time fixture is a re-match of the infamous Superbowl 51 tie, as the New England Patriots make the long journey down to Georgia and Mercedes-Benz Stadium to face the Atlanta Falcons.
Both teams have fallen somewhat from the perch since that fateful evening in 2016, but with one in the early signs of a serious recovery march, and one floundering in a win-one lose-one sort of season, futures are changing.
The Patriots have produced real quality over the last seven weeks, and apart from narrow losses to Tampa Bay and Dallas, both play-off teams, they have picked up five really impressive wins in that time, culminating on Sunday with a beat down of the Cleveland Browns.
Their hosts on the other hand, failed to play that same Dallas team as close in Week 10, as they were blown out 45-3 in a game that saw just one red-zone appearance for Matt Ryan’s offensive crew and that was the three points on the first drive.
Despite the form books clearly showing a favourite in this one, the NFL results sheet has become a weird place of late, so it’s hard to discount Atlanta’s potential to upset.
Of the quarterbacks in this last draft class outside of Zach Wilson, few players were as confusing to evaluate as Mac Jones.
Hardly an athletic masterpiece, from a dominant school at all positions but quarterback, a college player in the shadow of some of the other first-round picks from his own team – it was hard to know what to make of Mac Jones.
Since then, however, Jones has really started to pick up the pace, with a string of great performances, and an increasing ability to make throws many “experts” claimed he may never make – just check the TD to Kendrick Bourne against the Browns.
He has become a seriously dangerous player, and not just to Brian Burns’ ankles.
Jones is playing well within the Patriots system, hitting big plays when they are there and crucially keeping the turnovers to a minimum, which can often be the thing that gets young signal-callers in a pickle early in their career.
In fact, the Alabama alumni is now 13-4 in TD-INT ratio over those same seven games we mentioned, and with other young passers starting to struggle, and hitting mid-season slumps, from both this draft class and previous, the selection of Jones at 15th overall is starting to look all too scary.
Just a sprain, but a break for opponents
For the Falcons, the news that running back/returner/wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson may be out of the game with an ankle sprain really is make or break news for the team.
The former Bear has been in scintillating fashion this season and is set to break his single-season receiving record (469) with just 10 more yards and another eight games left to play.
Add to that that he already has his most rushing yards in a season (278) and has scored seven touchdowns – matching his personal best for a year – in just Week 10 and you can see the form is red-hot.
“Flash” is a player who has often frustrating to watch, but with an increased role in the offence in Atlanta, and a big helping of trust and self-belief instilled in him by head-coach, Arthur Smith, Patterson has started to produce the form that he has threatened with for so long.
His offensive prowess across multiple positions and as a returner means that his absence on Thursday against another of his former teams could spell even worse news for a Falcons team already struggling for playmakers.
Wayne Gallman has run well at times, and Kyle Pitts has started to find his feet in the passing game, but with Patterson not involved it could be a tough night in the dome.
If you hadn’t guessed from the tone of the piece, I think the Falcons will be winning this one on Thursday.
Nope, not even I can say that, despite this crazy crazy season of NFL results, although I do think it will be close.
The Patriot’s defense has been dominant of recent, the Falcons are missing a key offensive component and they can’t get much working on either side of the ball, and yet I still think they hang around – because that’s just how this season seems to be.
Oh, and expect a second successive week of a touchdown scored for Jakobi Myers now that curse has been broken.
Patriots 23 – 20 Falcons