The Atlanta Falcons are going to be happy not to face any AFC East opponents for a while after this week.
Atlanta lost last season's Super Bowl in epic fashion to the New England Patriots 34-28 in overtime, after blowing a 28-3 third-quarter lead. This season, the Falcons were tasked with playing not only the Patriots, but the entire AFC East -- strangely, in consecutive weeks. The last of the four comes Sunday at MetLife Stadium, when they take on the New York Jets (3-4).
The first three meetings with the AFC East resulted in three straight losses to the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and Patriots, each in more embarrassing fashion than the one before.
Now, Atlanta is back at .500. The Falcons have scored only seven points in the last six quarters. The offense is averaging 21.3 points per game under new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Last season, the Falcons scored 33.8 points per game when current 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan led the offense.
"We can't worry about last year," Matt Ryan said earlier this week. "I know that constantly gets brought up, but as players we are not thinking about last year. We are not playing good enough as a unit in 2017.
"Frankly, I don't really care to go back to 2016. It's not useful for us."
What will be useful for the Falcons is getting back to running the ball, according to head coach Dan Quinn. The New Jersey native, who was the Jets' defensive line coach for two seasons under Eric Mangini, said he'd like to have "in the high-20s" rushing attempts per game.
Then, more play-action passes will open up to Julio Jones, who has 466 receiving yards in six games but scored his first touchdown only last week against New England.
"He's going to be a load," Jets head coach Todd Bowles said about Jones. "He's been triple-teamed and quadrupled. … He's that great."
The Jets, who are five-point underdogs as of Wednesday evening, will be playing their first game this season against an NFC opponent. They are coming off two straight losses to division rivals after holding a 14-point lead in each.
They led 28-14 in Miami this past Sunday going into the fourth quarter, but the Dolphins scored 17 unanswered points to win. Two weeks ago, the Dolphins were down 17-0 in Atlanta before scoring 20 unanswered points in the second half to stun the Falcons.
"When you look at the film, you don't see them slumping," Bowles said about the Falcons. "They make a mistake here and there, but they definitely move the football. … We have our work cut out for us."
In the injury department, the Jets might be without cornerback Buster Skrine due to a concussion. He played all of Sunday's game in Miami but didn't complain of symptoms until he reported to the team facility on Monday.
For the Falcons, rookie linebacker Duke Riley will likely need knee surgery after getting hurt against the Patriots, while running back Tevin Coleman (knee) was limited at Wednesday's practice but should play Sunday.
Coleman has 229 rushing yards this season, and Devonta Freeman has 425, for a total of 654, which is more than the combined total for the Jets' three running backs Bilal Powell (283), Elijah McGuire (205) and Matt Forte (157), who have 645.
But surprisingly, Jets quarterback Josh McCown has thrown 10 touchdown passes to Matt Ryan's seven.
Yet if there's one bugaboo for each team, it's penalties for the Jets and lack of takeaways for the Falcons.
The Jets lead the league with 546 penalty yards, including a whopping 12 for 124 yards against the Dolphins, while the Falcons are last in the league with three takeaways (one interception and two fumble recoveries).
Still, nobody is panicking on either side.
Said Quinn: "The term we have around here is 'the bear is not loose.' And the reason we say that is because … we do have a talented group, who are tougher than hell and want to battle and get it right."
Whatever that means.
Bowles, as he usual does, put things more succinctly. When asked what the Jets have to do this week, he said: "Just finish and play mistake-free football."
Asked if that was easier said than done, he responded: "Always."