The red-hot New England Patriots will meet the Atlanta Falcons for Week 11's iteration of Thursday Night Football. A sneaky-good contest on paper, both of these teams have played an intriguing brand of football in recent weeks.
Bill Belichick's Patriots sit at 6-4 after reigning victorious in five of their latest six contests and continue to provide the Buffalo Bills with a surprising amount of competition for the AFC East's divisional crown. The Falcons, meanwhile, are looking to bounce back from an embarrassing Week 10 loss suffered at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys. It served as a setback for a previously surging Atlanta team that defeated their rival New Orleans Saints two weeks ago, a victory that catapulted them back into the playoff hunt.
Despite being an out-of-conference contest, the result will have a profound impact on both teams’ playoff chances. Here are three matchups we’re particularly excited to monitor.
KYLE PITTS VS… BILL BELICHICK?
I'm sorry, say that again? You read that correctly. We are kicking things off with the 69-year-old Bill Belichick versus Atlanta's 21-year-old rookie tight end Kyle Pitts. Well known for his penchant to eliminate the opposition's star player by double, and sometimes triple-teaming them in coverage, Belichick will almost certainly dictate his defensive strategy toward eradicating Pitts from Atlanta's offensive gameplan.
The Falcons will once again be without the services of star wide receiver Calvin Ridley, who continues to take time away from the game in order to improve his mental health. Fellow star swiss-army knife Cordarrelle Patterson is legitimately questionable to suit up for Thursday night's crucial contest and his absence would leave Pitts as Atlanta's only viable weapon in the passing game. New England possesses several talented defenders, with the likes of J.C. Jackson and Kyle Dugger being able to flawlessly handle a difficult assignment on the fly. Belichick has made a habit out of devising brilliant defensive gameplans throughout the years and he'll certainly have something special saved for Pitts on Thursday.
KENDRICK BOURNE VS. AVERY WILLIAMS
As rookie signal-caller Mac Jones continues to make strides and progress as a quality NFL starter, a surprising WR1 has emerged alongside him. Kendrick Bourne now leads all Patriots receivers with 520 receiving yards.
A former undrafted free agent out of Eastern Washington, Bourne has flashed big-play potential all throughout 2021 and is averaging an excellent 15.8 yards per reception. He especially exploded in New England's 38-point drubbing over the Cleveland Browns in Week 10, recording 141 total yards and a touchdown on seven touches.
Bourne will now look to build upon that momentum in a plus matchup against a meddling and banged-up Falcons secondary that offered little resistance against Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott a week ago. Bourne serves as New England's most versatile receiver and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels enjoys moving him all over their formation. When lined up in the slot, Bourne should see a healthy amount of rookie fifth-round selection Avery Williams. An undersized but high-energy player, Williams has largely taken over Atlanta's nickel position following an injury to the talented Isaiah Oliver. This has the makings of a competitive and entertaining matchup.
MATTHEW JUDON VS. JAKE MATTHEWS
Arguably no defensive player has made a larger impact on his new club than Matthew Judon has on the Patriots in 2021. A tough, hard-nosed defender, Belichick lured Judon away from Baltimore by handing him a lucrative four-year, $56 million contract and the former Grand Valley State standout has rewarded New England's faith in him by recording an astounding 9.5 sacks in just 10 games. Judon is a versatile defender that can be utilized in a variety of ways, but he lines up almost exclusively opposite the left tackle in 3rd-and-obvious passing-down situations. That sets Judon up for what should be a supremely physical battle with Falcons blindside protector Jake Matthews.
A top-10 overall selection out of Texas A&M, Matthews is an athletic blocker that particularly thrives in pass protection. These two should give one another all they can handle under the bright lights of primetime.