New York Jets 2021 opponent report: Atlanta Falcons

London’s calling the New York Jets, who will battle the Atlanta Falcons overseas in an interconference matchup in Week 5.

The Opponent: Atlanta Falcons
The Date: Week 5, 9:30 a.m. ET, NFL Network (@ London, England)
The Series: Atlanta leads 7-5 (last meeting: 2017, 25-20 ATL)

American soil hasn’t been too kind to the New York Jets. Perhaps a semester abroad can do them some good.

The Jets play on a different continent for the first time since 2015, as they’ll battle the Atlanta Falcons in a British-based interconference matchup. New York won in their lone appearance in the NFL’s International Series, topping the Miami Dolphins at the rebooted Wembley Stadium.

Previous international business trips for the Jets include a visit up north to play the Buffalo Bills in Toronto back in 2009 and preseason contests in Montreal (1988) and Tokyo (2003). Atlanta, coming off a garish four-win campaign, hasn’t played overseas since 2014, when they dropped a 22-21 heartbreaker to Detroit, also at Wembley.

The Skinny On the Falcons

A new era has dawned in Atlanta. Matt Ryan is back for his 14th season as the Falcons’ franchise quarterback (the Jets have started 13 different throwers in that span) but franchise staple Julio Jones has moved on to Nashville. Atlanta also dismissed general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Dan Quinn, each of whom was only four years removed from a Super Bowl appearance.

There’s a lot of things new in Atlanta (more on that in a minute). Several franchise faces that made that Super Bowl run have vanished, but Ryan has remained eternal. Having turned 36 in May, his contract dictates that he has at least two more years left as the Falcons’ man under center. Atlanta drove that point home by refusing to name an heir apparent. The role of Ryan’s understudy is down to a competition between undrafted Felipe Franks and NFL nomad Josh Rosen.

“We studied every drop-back pass, every play-action pass, everything that Matt did this past year,” new Falcons quarterbacks coach Charles London said after the team passed (pun intended) on several high-profile throwers at the 2021 draft, per D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We thought as a staff that he was still performing at a high level. He could still do everything that was needed to do to run this offense…He’s been doing it in this league for a long time at a high level. We expect that to continue this year.”

With Jones dealt away to the Titans, Ryan has found a new favorite target in Calvin Ridley, who established himself as one of the most prominent deep-ball threats for years to come with a career-best 1,374 yards. Russell Gage quietly set new personal highs in the slot and will take on full No. 2 receiver duties in Jones’ absence.

New York Giants, Kyle Pitts
Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

What’s New In Atlanta?

In the apparent name of building one last Super Bowl map for Ryan, the Falcons retooled this offseason. Arthur Smith takes over as head coach after turning the Titans’ offense into a juggernaut while former New Orleans rival Terry Fontenot was named the general manager. Granted their highest first-round pick since they chose Ryan third overall in 2008, the Falcons defined the concept of taking the “best player available” through the selection of tight end Kyle Pitts. The Florida alum’s other-worldly size (i.e. a jaw-dropping 83-3/8 inch wingspan) allowed the Falcons to feel comfortable in biding their time in finding Ryan’s successor.

Atlanta also underwent extensive renovations to their run game. The team bid farewell to 1,411 yards of production in the form of the Todd Gurley/Brian Hill/Ito Smith group and signed ex-division rival Mike Davis, who rose to the occasion after the Christian McCaffrey nightmare in Charlotte. In terms of protection, cap reasons forced the Falcons to let offensive line staple Alex Mack go. Matt Hennessy (brother of Jets long snapper Thomas) appears poised to take over the role, having beat out fourth-round selection Drew Dalman.

Provided Ryan remains reliable and Pitts fulfills expectations, the Falcons’ biggest issues lie on defense (which was overseen by new Jets defensive boss Jeff Ulbrich after Quinn’s firing). Atlanta also completely overhauled their safeties room (a group that included current Jet Sharrod Neasman) with free agent newcomers Duron Harmon and Erik Harris the favorites to take over. Succeeding Ulbrich is Smith’s former Nashville comrade Dean Pees, who brings two Super Bowl rings with him.

How to Beat Them

-Deploy the Royal Air Force

The Falcons’ defensive revolution was necessitated by a garish effort in the secondary, as they surrendered an NFL-worst 293 yards through the air last season. They allowed at least 300 yards in nine games, going 2-7 in such contests…five of those losses were single possession games. Their attempts to shore things up when beyond Harmon and Harris: Atlanta used second (Richie Grant) and fourth-round (San Diego State blitzer Darren Hall) picks on secondary help and also added sizable man-to-man veteran Fabian Moreau after four seasons in Washington.

Harmon, a Rutgers alum who came over from Detroit, acknowledged that while there’s a positive outlook at the Falcons’ defensive future, it’s going to take some time to develop chemistry.

“At the end of the day, it’s going to take reps,” Harmon said in another report from Ledbetter. “Not just reps on the practice field, but reps in the film room. Reps at walk-throughs. Reps with us just getting together and talking ball. It’s going to take time.”

Zach Wilson thus has an early opportunity to air the ball out against a fledgling unit on a stage that all eyes of the football-loving nation(s) will be watching. If the Jets can take advantage of this opportunity, it can help Wilson and their own developing offense generate some early momentum in a nationally televised game.

-Melt Matty

It becomes a bit more difficult with the loss of Carl Lawson, but the Jets should oblige Ryan’s request to prove he still has enough in the tank. Despite several question marks surrounding the Dirty Birds, they’re capable of putting up big numbers of both the fantasy and physical scoreboards at a moment’s notice with the offensive firepower in tow.

With the Jets’ secondary likewise set to go through their own transitional period…especially with matchups against the weaponry of Carolina, Tennessee, and Atlanta on the docket in the early going…upping the pressure against a 36-year-old quarterback will be more important than ever. Over the past two seasons, Atlanta is 2-9 when Ryan is blitzed at least 15 times.

As anyone who attended that heartbreaker against Las Vegas can attest to, the Jets had no issues blitzing under Gregg Williams’ watch (ranking sixth in blitz rate). Even with Lawson done for the year, they have the personnel to raise the heat this time around. 2020 breakouts Quinnen Williams, Foley Fatukasi, and John Franklin-Myers are a year older and they’ll also have Sheldon Rankins and Shaq Lawson in tow as well.

Robert Saleh is used to making the most of a makeshift pass rush, posting respectable results when the dominant forces of the San Francisco front seven were obliterated by the injury bug. Making the aging Ryan uncomfortable will be vital if the Jets hope to bring a victorious souvenir back from London.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

After his win at UFC Vegas 18, what’s next for Clay Guida?

This past Saturday at UFC Vegas 18, Clay Guida (36-20) took on Michael Johnson (19-17) on the main card. Guida hadn’t won a fight since his victory over BJ Penn that came back at UFC 237 in mid-2019.

He was carried a two-fight losing streak into UFC Vegas 18. Michael Johnson was also on a losing streak so both men desperately needed a victory on Saturday night. Well, on Saturday, Clay Guida did what Clay Guida does.

Michael Johnson found some early success with his speed and distance striking. However, Guida was able to land some big right hands in the first which allowed him to close the distance and start grappling with Johnson.

Guida is known for his pace and his smothering style. Both of those were on display at UFC Vegas 18. Guida imposed his will on Johnson and Johnson had no way to counter Guida’s attacks.

In the end, all three judges gave every round to Clay Guida. A fairly dominant performance when his back was against the wall. Now that he’s snapped his two-fight losing streak, what’s next for the UFC‘s Carpenter?

What’s next after UFC Vegas 18?

Clay Guida just turned 39 years old and he’s been fighting with the UFC since 2006. However, he’s showing no signs of stopping and no signs of slowing down. He made it clear after the fight that he wants another fight soon.

There are a couple of directions the UFC could go with Guida’s next fight. If they want to give him someone who is also coming off of a win, perhaps they could look at a fight between him and Mike Davis (9-2).

Davis just fought top prospect, Mason Jones, last month and got the win. The only two men to have defeated Davis are Gilbert Burns and Sodiq Yusuff. He’s won two in a row, and if the UFC would like to build him up, Guida would be a great test.

Another potential option could be David Teymur (8-2). This is more of a stretch, but Teymur was on his way to being a contender a couple of years ago. However, he’s been held outside of the octagon since February of 2019.

Teymur had an eight-fight win streak snapped by Charles Oliveira in his last fight. Perhaps the UFC reintroduces Teymur with Clay Guida. There are several options, but one thing we know for sure is that Guida will be down to fight anyone.

4 running backs the New York Giants could consider in free agency

New York Giants, Mike Davis

When New York Giants‘ star running back Saquon Barkley went down with a torn ACL in Week 2, reserve back, Wayne Gallman was forced to take a larger role. This was after Devonta Freeman was signed off the street and picked up a few injuries that held him out for the remainder of the season.

For the most part, the Wayne Train took a few games to get going, but when he was on, he was on. Gallman had some help from Morris as well, but the former Clemson star was the lead back when Barkley and Freeman went down with injuries. They ripped off eight 100-yard performances over the next nine games. They even put together a four-game winning streak.

The Giants know now, Barkley is not immortal. They need to get more of a solid plan at the running back. Gallman, Morris, and Lewis are free agents come in March, and the Giants will be seeking some veteran running back help behind Barkley this offseason.

Here are four veterans the New York Giants should consider signing this offseason:

Mike Davis

With the Carolina Panthers’ star running back Christian McCaffrey dealing with injuries this past season, Mike Davis was the top back for Carolina this past season. The 27-year-old is a versatile back who can catch passes out of the backfield as well as running through the tackles. Davis ran for 642 yards and had 373 receiving yards on 59 catches. Davis could be a solid and cheap running back for Barkley next season.

Jamaal Williams

The Green Bay Packers running back Jamaal Williams is strictly a complimentary back to Aaron Jones, that is exactly what the Giants need for Barkley. Williams is a reliable runner, averaging 4.2 yards per carry on the ground. He could also be used in the passing game as well if needed. With Green Bay drafting A.J Dillon in the second-round this past draft, they will have to part ways with Williams this offseason.

James White

Logan Ryan did he say he would try to recruit players to New York — could James White be one of them? White has been a productive back, through the air or on the ground. White would be the perfect third-down back and compliment Barkley really well. White could help New York in the red zone for the fact he is an excellent receiver. He would be a fine addition for whatever team he chooses to play for next season.

Malcolm Brown

Malcolm Brown reminds me of Jamaal Williams, a complimentary back to Cam Akers. Brown is a very effective runner through the tackles. This past season, he became more effective through the air, which he has not been through the years. That will expand his value this offseason, with teams knowing he can be used in the passing game.

 

2021 UFC Breakthrough Candidates

UFC, Dana White

This past year, the UFC has seen a few fighters come out of no where and become household names. The two names that stick out the most are Kevin Holland (21-5) and Khamzat Chimaev (9-0).

Holland was already with the UFC when the year got started. However, Holland was just 3-2 in his first five fights. He came into 2020 coming off of a submission loss to Brendan Allen, but he showed in 2020 how special he could be.

Holland went a perfect 5-0 in 2020 with four finishes including one over Jacare Souza at UFC 256. Kevin Holland was a very popular pick for fighter of the year and he was our breakout fighter of the year.

Nobody really knew who Khamzat Chimaev was when 2020 started. There was some hype surrounding him in the Middle East, but to the mainstream public, nobody really knew who he was.

Chimaev made his UFC debut on Fight Island in July. He ended up fighting twice in ten days scoring two finishes in extremely dominant fashion. Chimaev followed those performances up with a knockout over Gerald Meerschaert in 17 seconds in September.

Khamzat Chimaev has gone from unknown to a superstar in just a few months. He was supposed to face Leon Edwards in January, but that fight has been pushed back due to Chimaev’s recovery since coming down with COVID-19.

2021 UFC Breakthrough Prospects

The mixed martial arts world and even the mainstream public knows Khamzat Chimaev and Kevin Holland after 2020. So who are some candidates for breakthrough fighters in the UFC as we enter 2021?

One of the guys I have my eyes on is bantamweight, Jack Shore (13-0). The bantamweight from Wales has fought twice in the UFC and he’s scored two submissions wins. Out of his 13 professional wins, only one has gone to the scorecards.

He last fought back in July on Fight Island. That night, Shore took on Aaron Phillips and he used his superior grappling to dominate the fight. Shore has all the makings for a contender who can breakthrough for the UFC in 2021.

The next guy I have my eyes on is another fighter from Wales. This one is the two-division Cage Warriors champion, Mason Jones (10-0). Jones is scheduled to make his UFC debut on January 20th against Mike Davis (8-2).

There is a lot of hype surrounding Mason Jones. The last two-division Cage Warriors champion to breakthrough in UFC is Conor McGregor. Thus, you can see why a lot of people are interested in this young man.

Jones is just 25 years old, but he is incredibly talented. The UFC is not giving him a layup in his first fight however. Mike Davis is a very tough opponent who’s only two losses have come to Gilbert Burns and Sodiq Yusuff.

Ranked Fighters to Watch

While Jones and Shore are my two prospects that I’m watching, there are a couple of more established fighters I have my eyes on as we enter 2021. One of those fighters being Jimmy Crute (12-1).

The Australian light heavyweight is currently ranked 12th in the UFC’s light heavyweight division. He has dynamite in his hands and he’s very good on the ground. He bounced back from his first loss in 2019 to score two first round finishes in 2020.

Crute is just 24 years old and looks incredibly gifted. I would not be shocked to see Crute inching towards the top five once 2021 is over. The other fighter I have my eyes on is Diego Ferreira (17-2).

Okay, I’ll admit it, Ferreira is 35 years old and he’s been with the UFC for a long time. He doesn’t really fit in with the other three fighters I’ve listed so far. However, I have him on this list for a reason.

Ferreira is a guy that seems to get lost when folks talk about the lightweight division. The most exciting division in the sport is incredibly stacked. It’s so stacked that people forget that Ferreira is on a six-fight winning streak in the UFC.

He last fought in January and submitted Anthony Pettis in the second round. Ferreira is taking on Beneil Dariush (19-4-1) in February where he will look to avenge his first career loss. Outside of Dariush, the only man to defeat Ferreira inside the octagon is Dustin Poirier.

These are four fighters that I truly believe can establish themselves in the UFC this year. When I say establish, I mean become household names to not just the MMA world, but the general public. Keep your eyes on these fighters in 2021.