Two teams with playoff aspirations clash at Soldier Field in Week one, as the Falcons travel to Chicago to meet the Bears. Both clubs won their division last season, and look to answer critics who question their legitimacy in 2011. A must-see game that will feature two of the league’s most guttiest quarterbacks and a quartet of electrifying wide receivers.
1. Julio Jones factor – Roddy White will be shadowed by Charles Tillman, a physical corner who has a tendency to be more concerned with stripping the football rather than making the sure tackle. That matchup is in the favor of the Falcons, considering Roddy is an elite receiver. So, how about rookie wideout Julio Jones against Tim Jennings, or whoever Chicago throws at him? The Alabama product, who the Dirty Birds mortgaged their future to move up to the sixth pick to acquire, could be the “X-factor” in determining the outcome of this battle in the Windy City. Julio’s ability to pick up yards after the catch is something to keep an eye on in this affair. He could have the attention of the Bears safeties, which would open up the middle for Matt Ryan to target his tight end Tony Gonzalez.
2. Bears defensive line – You can’t allow Julius Peppers to go one-on-one with Sam Baker; the former Tar Heel standout will have his way. With that said, things could be clear for Henry Melton and Israel Idonije to go solo if the Falcons wisely decide to double-team Julius. Both Henry and Israel are guys defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder knows by first name. Although not recognized by the casual fan, the tandem of Melton and Idonije could wreak havoc on “Matty Ice.” Expect the Bears d-line to impose its will on the very ordinary Falcons o-line; which is better suited opening holes for Michael Turner than protecting Matt Ryan in the pocket. Keep in mind: Jay Cutler is more experienced under pressure, throwing on the run than Ryan is.
3. Windy City Flyer – With the new kickoff rules, Devin Hester will likely return less kicks this season. What does that indicate? More energy and fervor to take punts back for six. So what do the Falcons do? Kick away, and you get burned in the field position department. Take a chance by letting him field a punt, and there’s an opportunity Hester takes it the full distance. Either way, #23 is a game-changer that could make the difference in this NFC showdown. It’s going to be a close contest, so special teams could decide the outcome on Sunday.
Prediction – My winner is the team with more to prove, and the “chip on the shoulder” will certainly show on the field. I feel the Bears defense will make the necessary adjustments to limit the yards of White and Jones after the catch, thus, making the Falcons work for their points. In the end, Chicago’s improved offensive line will ultimately wear down the undersized Atlanta’s defensive line with a new power rushing attack led by Matt Forte. Bears 23 Falcons 17