Making just his second start in the last two seasons and seeking his first win in three, quarterback Brandon Weeden and the Dallas Cowboys host the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday afternoon at AT&T Stadium. The matchup serves as major test for two of the NFC’s 2-0 powers, and could have far-reaching postseason ramifications as well as decide if injured quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant make any return this season.
Dallas could take a commanding two-game lead in the NFC East, and the same goes for the NFC South’s Falcons looking to return to the postseason.
Filling in for the injured All-Pro Romo, Weeden last earned a victory as a starter back in Week 14 of the 2012 season with the Cleveland Browns. Then a 29-year-old rookie, Weeden would throw for 217 yards and no touchdowns in Cleveland’s 30-7 blowout victory over Kansas City, relying mostly on 154 rushing yards and a special-teams touchdown.
Having move on to become a Cowboys back-up, he hasn’t won in his last eight starts, including Week 9 against Arizona in 2014 when he threw two interceptions as Romo nursed a back injury.
Despite his lack of success, Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones praised Weeden’s skills earlier this week, calling him a “gifted passer.” Jones, however, also knows with Romo laid up for at least the next eight weeks with a fractured left clavicle, the Cowboys need more options under center to keep hopes of a second-straight NFC East title and trip to the playoffs alive.
Dallas acquired veteran back-up Matt Cassel from Buffalo for a 2017 fifth-round pick, but he’s currently the No. 3 quarterback behind Kellen Moore and Weeden, according to ESPN.
If Weeden plays like he did against the Eagles, neither Cassel nor Moore will see the field. Weeden cast aside any early critics by going for 7-for-7 for 73 yards and a touchdown while relieving Romo in Week 2’s huge 20-10 win over Philadelphia.
It’s unclear how much Dallas head coach Jason Garrett will lean on Weeden to make plays, but there is more pressure on a Cowboys defensive unit that completely shutdown the Eagles.
Safety J.J. Wilcox and linebacker Sean Lee each recorded interceptions and defensive tackle Nick Hayden recovered a fumble, as Dallas held the Eagles to seven yards rushing, 226 total yards, and a 2-for-11 rate on third down.
But next up is a Falcons squad in search of their first 3-0 start since 2012. With the tandem of quarterback Matt Ryan and receiver Julio Jones, Atlanta's offense has clicked against NFC East opponents. Ryan overcame some mistakes to lead Atlanta over the Philadelphia Eagles in the season opener, 26-24, and with the help of Jones' nine receptions for 141 yards and two touchdowns.
The pair linked up a team-record 13 times in Week 2’s 24-20 comeback win over the New York Giants, and Ryan totaled 363 yards and one touchdown as Atlanta erased a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter.
The Falcons were also boosted by another touchdown score from rookie running back Tevin Coleman, but he suffered a cracked rib in the first half and has not practiced all week.
Typically the injury takes weeks to heal, but Coleman could still take the field with heavy padding covering the injury, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. However, head coach Dan Quinn hasn’t said whether Coleman will play.
Betting Odds: Atlanta -1
Over/Under: 45 points
Kickoff Time: Saturday, 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Live Online: NFL Game Pass