FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- After a long preseason, the Falcons are ready to take the field for their first meaningful game of the 2017 season. The reigning NFL champions will begin their campaign with a trip to Chicago to play the Bears at Soldier Field on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.
The Bears finished with a 3-13 record in 2016, but they've got several talented players who can make life difficult for opposing teams. Of course, the Falcons have a lot of talent as well, and they enter the new season as healthy as any team could hope to be and with plenty of chemistry among the returning players.
Looking ahead to this season-opening showdown in the Windy City, there is one matchup that looks especially interesting.
KEY MATCHUP: Falcons' front-seven vs. Bears' run game
Chicago's most notable offensive weapon is second-year running back Jordan Howard. As a rookie, Howard carried the ball for 1,313 yards and six touchdowns, and he also caught 29 passes for 298 yards with another score. He finished second in the NFL in rushing yards, behind Ezekiel Elliott, despite starting just 13 games.
When it comes to the Bears' offense, Howard is the man to watch.
In front of him, Howard has an offensive line that was rated as the fifth-best by Pro Football Focus entering this season. The strength of the Bears' offensive line is center Cody Whitehair and guards Josh Sitton and Kyle Long. Long's status for Sunday remains up in the air, however, as he is recovering slowly from reconstructive surgery on his right ankle, according to the Chicago Tribune.
The Falcons added depth and talent to their defensive line this offseason, signing defensive tackle Dontari Poe and Jack Crawford. That depth was on display during the preseason, and Chicago will provide a great initial test for Atlanta's defenders.
Behind the defensive line, there is tremendous speed at linebacker for the Falcons. Second-year players Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell showed great promise as rookies, and Atlanta's third-round pick in this year's draft, Duke Riley, is another linebacker with sideline-to-sideline speed.
Five more things to know about Falcons-Bears 1. Glennon will start for the Bears, and he's had success against Falcons
Despite all of the preseason drama surrounding Chicago's quarterback situation, the Bears decided to stick with veteran Mike Glennon as the starter and make rookie Mitchell Trubisky his backup. While with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Glennon was a bit troublesome for the Falcons.
Although the Buccaneers were just 1-3 against the Falcons in the games Glennon played, he completed 71.6 percent of his passes for 683 yards and six touchdowns with zero interceptions in those four contests. 2. Three Chicago defenders recorded at least seven sacks last season
Atlanta isn't the only team with speed on defense. The Bears had three defenders register seven-plus sacks in 2016, which is made even more impressive considering defensive end Akiem Hicks was the only defensive player to start all 16 games. Hicks finished with seven sacks last year, and he was joined by linebackers Willie Young and Leonard Floyd, who had 7.5 and seven sacks, respectively. 3. Atlanta seeking first victory in Chicago in over three decades
The Falcons haven't had much luck against the Bears over the past few decades (a few days over 34 years to be exact), winning just three of the last 13 games the two teams have played, and they've haven't emerged victorious in the city of Chicago since Sept. 4, 1983, going 0-for-6 on the road since the win. In that game, a 20-17 victory, Falcons quarterback Steve Bartkowski threw for 201 yards with touchdown passes to William Andrews and Alfred Jenkins. 4. Bears struggled vs. run but stout vs. pass in 2016
Despite what a 3-13 record might indicate, Chicago wasn't bad across the board last season. We've already touched on the success the Bears offense had running the ball in 2016, but they had some positives on defense as well. Chicago was seventh in the NFL last year in passing yards allowed per game, giving up an average of 224.9 yards. For perspective, that was about one yard less than the Seattle Seahawks allowed.
While they limited opposing passing attacks, the Bears struggled to defend the run. Chicago was 27th in the league in rushing yards allowed per game last year, surrendering 121.9 yards on average. 5. Injuries: Atlanta is near full-health; Chicago is not
One of the primary reasons the Falcons' preseason should be considered a success is that the team emerged with minimal injury concerns. While the loss of linebacker LaRoy Reynolds to IR is tough, Atlanta will head to Chicago about as healthy as any team could hope to be at this point.
Rookie running back Brian Hill is the only player who has not participated in practice this week, as he continues to recover from an ankle injury. Running back Terron Ward and offensive lineman Austin Pasztor have been limited with a hamstring and chest injury, respectively, but those are the only other concerns on the Falcons' injury report.
The Bears, on the other hand, had as many as six players listed as "limited" on their Thursday injury report: linebackers Sam Acho and Pernell McPhee, defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard, offensive lineman Kyle Long, defensive back Sherrick McManis and wide receiver Markus Wheaton.
In addition to those six players who were limited, defensive back Prince Amukamara has sat out of practice with an ankle injury.