|Peyton Hillis makes his debut with the Chiefs on Sunday against Atlanta. The last time Hillis went up against Atlanta's defense in 2010 with the Browns, he had a touchdown catch and also fumbled in the Browns' 20-10 loss. (US Presswire)|
Falcons vs. Chiefs -- Week 1
Where: Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Mo. (natural grass, outdoors)
When: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET (Fox)
Spread: Falcons by 3
Forecast: Sunny, projected kickoff temperature: low-80s
2011 records: Chiefs (7-9); Falcons (10-6)
Past results: Two most recent meetings -- Sept. 21, 2008: Falcons 38, Chiefs 14; Oct. 24, 2004: Chiefs 56, Falcons 10. Series record: Chiefs hold a 5-2 edge.
What matters: The Falcons have no idea who they will be facing on defense on Sunday, and that is not an advantage for the Chiefs. Kansas City has seven players injured on defense and one suspended (Tamba Hali). The main concerns are in the secondary where star cornerback Brandon Flowers has not been a full participant at practice since bruising his heel on July 31, and coach Romeo Crennel plans to wait until Sunday to decide whether Flowers will suit up. Flowers' backup, Jalil Brown, is also hurt, and if both players are out, Jacques Reeves, who has not played a regular season snap since 2009 will match up with either Julio Jones or Roddy White. Seattle rookie QB Russell Wilson won the starting job after having his way with KC's depleted secondary. Without Hali to worry about coming off the edge, Matt Ryan could have plenty of time to pick on KC's undermanned secondary.
Who matters: The good news on the injury front is that the ACL club (running back Jamaal Charles, tight end Tony Moeaki and safety Eric Berry) are all back and ready to contribute. Charles showed that his burst is back in the preseason, and that's good news for Kansas City on both sides of the ball. The Chiefs need Charles and Peyton Hillis to perform well on Sunday to take pressure off QB Matt Cassel and also to keep Atlanta's offense off the field. The Falcons' defense ranked sixth against the run last season, but if Charles can return to his old form, the Chiefs will look a lot more like the 2010 version that led the league in rushing.
Key matchups: Jones and White are not the only pass-catchers the Chiefs are worried about; a familiar face will return to Arrowhead in Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez. Safeties Abe Elam and Berry will likely match up against Gonzalez. Two years ago, Berry struggled in the season opener (his NFL debut) against another veteran tight end -- Antonio Gates. He caught five passes for 76 yards and a touchdown with Berry checking him most of the game. In his third year in the league, Berry should be better prepared to go up against Gonzalez.
Injuries of note: The Chiefs have five injured starters on defense: linebacker Jovan Belcher (groin), nose tackle Anthony Toribio (ankle), safety Kendrick Lewis (shoulder), linebacker Derrick Johnson (ankle) and Flowers (foot). Johnson has said he plans to play. If Toribio sits, the Chiefs will start first-round pick Dontari Poe at nose tackle. The Chiefs had hoped to be able to only use Poe in passing situations early in the year.
Inside stuff: Right tackle Eric Winston joined the Chiefs after spending his first six seasons with the Texans. Winston was one of the big reasons why Houston has been so successful running the football the past two years, and he has also graded out as a great pass blocker. His presence is yet another reason to believe the Chiefs rushing attack can return to its 2010 form.
Connections: Gonzalez returns to Arrowhead for the first time since being traded before the 2009 season. The Chiefs have 10 players still on the roster who played with Gonzalez.
Stats you should know: The Falcons were 7-1 last season when they won the turnover battle and ranked fifth in the NFL in the takeaway/giveaway department (plus-8). The Chiefs ranked 18th (minus-2).
Looking ahead: The Chiefs want to avoid what happened in 2011 when they opened the season with three straight losses, including two blowouts in the first two weeks. Beating Atlanta at home is important as the Chiefs hit the road the next two weeks -- at Buffalo and then at New Orleans.
Prediction: Falcons 27, Chiefs 17.