SERIES HISTORY: 14th regular-season meeting. Broncos lead series, 8-5. Falcons have won two of the past three. Most historic meeting between these two teams was on Jan. 31, 1999, when John Elway's MVP performance in his final game before retirement as a player powered the Broncos to a 34-19 win in Super Bowl XXXIII, giving them back-to-back world championships.
KEYS TO THE GAME:
This is the litmus test many are pointing to for the Falcons' offense, which enters the game leading the league in scoring, total yards and passing yards. Oh, and sports a two-headed ground attack averaging 124.5 yards per game. Quarterback Matt Ryan appears very comfortable in Year 2 in coordinator Kyle Shanahan's scheme, bolstered by veteran additions to the offensive line and receiving corps. It's up to Denver's fourth-ranked defense to shut down RBs Devonte Freeman and Tevin Coleman and then knock Ryan out of that comfort zone. The challenge for the Broncos is Ryan has a bevy of options to play catch with at all three levels of the field.
Rookie Paxton Lynch gets the call at QB for the Broncos. Starting quarterback Trevor Siemian is inactive for the Denver Broncos' Week 5 game on Sunday. Siemian injured his left shoulder last week at Tampa Bay, when Lynch finished the game for Denver. Austin Davis is the No. 2 quarterback for the Broncos on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.
It doesn't seem to matter too much who the Broncos put behind center, so long as they avoid turnovers Denver continues to move the ball. The includes pushing the ball vertically more often the past two weeks with teams daring them to throw. Atlanta's glaring weakness is a pass defense that lacks a consistent rush or strong coverage outside of Pro Bowler Dezmond Trufant. Robert Alford, who is trying to hold off C.J. Wilson on the other side, will be a popular target.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Falcons WR Julio Jones vs. Broncos CB Aqib Talib. When the Saints double-teamed Julio Jones two weeks ago, he was limited to one catch while Ryan spread the ball to eight other wide receivers. Carolina opted to go man-to-man on Jones, and all he did was rack up 300 receiving yards. Talib has three interceptions already and the Broncos like to leave their cornerbacks on an island, although whoever is on Jones could receive safety help after Denver was burned by Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown for 16 catches for 189 yards and two scores last December.
--Falcons MLB Deion Jones vs. Broncos RBs C.J. Anderson/Devontae Booker. Atlanta's hard-hitting rookie has made an early impact, tying with safety Kemal Ishmael for the team lead in tackles with 30 and knocking Panthers quarterback Cam Newton into the concussion protocol with a jarring hit at the goal line last week. Anderson leads the Broncos with three touchdown runs but is averaging just 3.5 yards per carry, while Booker enters with a 4.0-yard average.
Broncos DE Derek Wolfe -- With 2.5 sacks against Tampa Bay, Wolfe ran his total to four through four games, and now has 10 sacks in his last 11 games (including postseason) dating back to last year. He has posted at least a half-sack in 11 of his past 14 games, an impressive accomplishment for a three- and five-technique defensive end in a 3-4 alignment, and has shown no signs of missing Malik Jackson, his defensive-line partner who signed with the Jaguars in the offseason.
Falcons DE Dwight Freeney has eihgt sacks in his past eight games.
In 19 career games against the NFC, Broncos OLB Von Miller has 20 sacks and six forced fumbles.
The Broncos lead the NFL with a plus-39 scoring margin in the fourth quarter this season.
Atlanta's offense has the feel of an unstoppable locomotive as the Falcons enter averaging 38 points per game. However, Atlanta is traditionally a different animal on the road, much less against the league's most feared pass rushing unit that can quickly create short fields for its offense.
OUR PICK: Broncos, 26-23