The Atlanta Falcons are an interesting team for the Bengals to prepare for this week. On one hand, I firmly believe that this is one of the teams that made Cincinnati's strength of schedule so deceiving this year. This is a better team than the one that posted a 4-12 record in 2013.
Before the season started, all signs point towards a Cincinnati victory at home. At the forefront of that prediction is the assessment of the offensive and defensive lines, where the Falcons find themselves utterly outmatched heading into this contest.
Both lines were perhaps the weakest points for Atlanta last year, plaguing the team. However, the Bengals have one of the stronger offensive lines in the league to tag team with one of the three or four best defensive lines. That alone should be enough to give the Bengals a much-needed advantage in controlling the trenches.
The Falcons have talent on offense. The question is whether or not that talent can be matched by Cincinnati. Andy Dalton, when playing well, can hang with Matt Ryan at quarterback. And the positional talent around Dalton arguably has a good deal more depth than Ryan has to work with on the away side.
Giovani Bernard should and Jeremy Hill should realistically have a field day in this game, which should set up a comfortable situation for the rest of the offense.
The situation grew murky, and there was a bit of lost confidence after this past week's offensive performance by Atlanta in their 37-34 OT win over New Orleans. The hyped Saints defense just barely kept Matt Ryan under 500 yards passing, as he held firm control over the Falcons air attack.
The Bengals defense is superior to that of the Saints, to be sure. However, that side of the ball seems to waver between dominant and a bend-but-don't-break mentality in its performance. To stop Ryan, Cincinnati is going to need to put up as dominant a performance as the unit can muster.
If they accomplish that, and keep the Falcons under 24 points, I think the Bengals win. But as the week 1 game against the Saints proved, that's easier said than done. The home contest for Cincinnati could easily turn into a shootout, and overtime isn't out of the question.
However, I say the Bengals hold on to go 2-0 to start the season.