X-factor for Sunday: Can Falcons stand up to rugged AFC North?

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

FLOWERY BRANCH -- Facing the Cleveland Browns will be a good measuring stick for general manager Terry Fontenot and coach Arthur Smith to see how sturdy this young team has been built.

They play a different brand of football in the AFC North.

“It’s a tough division,” Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “Having been at Baltimore for eight years. Going against the Steelers was always rough. Cleveland has always been a physical team. Cincinnati, too. It’s a tough division.”

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The Falcons, who face the Browns at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, are 0-8 in their past two cycles against the AFC North, in 2018 and 2014. The last time the Falcons won a game against an AFC North team was against Baltimore, a 26-21 victory Nov. 11, 2010, in a Thursday night game.

The 2010 Falcons, who went 13-3 and were the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs, went 3-1 against the AFC North teams -- Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

“It is ironic how things get passed on, no matter who’s been there, but that certain brand of football – maybe because the weather’s nasty, and they play outside, and you’re not going to be pretty throwing the ball 65 times (amid) the lake effect in Cleveland late in the year,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said.

The Browns’ stadium is next to Lake Erie.

“Maybe that has something to do with it, or the old Three Rivers (Stadium) in Pittsburgh or the weather, I don’t know, but it is a really good brand of football,” Smith said.

The Browns own a 12-3 advantage over the Falcons, whose last victory over the Browns was a 20-10 affair Oct. 10, 2010.

The Browns won the past two meetings, 28-16 in 2018 and 26-24 in 2014.

The Falcons also have losing records against the Steelers (14-2-1), Bengals (9-5) and Ravens (4-2).

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Atlanta Falcons 2022 NFL schedule

Sept. 11: Saints 27, Falcons 26

Sept. 18: Rams 31, Falcons 27

Sept. 25 Falcons 27, Seahawks 23

Oct. 2 vs. Cleveland, 1 p.m.

Oct. 9 at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.

Oct. 16 vs. San Francisco, 1 p.m.

Oct. 23 at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.

Oct. 30 vs. Carolina, 1 p.m.

Nov. 6 vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 1 p.m.

Nov. 10 at Carolina, 8:15 p.m.

Nov. 20 vs. Chicago, 1 p.m.

Nov. 27 at Washington, 1 p.m.

Dec. 4 vs. Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.


Dec. 18 at New Orleans, TBD

Dec. 24 at Baltimore, 1 p.m.

Jan. 1 vs. Arizona, 1 p.m.

Jan. 8 vs. Tampa Bay, TBD