Most of the talk going into the game is the suspension of Tamba Hali, the injuries to Brandon Flowers and Derrick Johnson, and how the Chiefs will try to defend Julio Jones and Roddy White. All of those components seem to offer a big challenge to Kansas City in a game that precludes trips to Buffalo and New Orleans.
All that in mind, here are five keys for Sunday's tilt:
1) Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis: Kansas City has to run the ball effectively throughout. Atlanta has a quality secondary but is very soft in the front seven. Curtis Lofton was their best defender in the box last year and he's now with the Saints, so the Falcons have to rely on Akeem Dent in their 4-3 scheme.
The Chiefs have a revamped offensive line with Eric Winston on the right side which should provide a boost. A good game by Charles and Hillis would serve two purposes; keeping Matt Ryan off the field and giving Matt Cassel tons of single-coverage.
2) Create pressure: Justin Houston began to look like a serious playmaker by the end of 2011, registering 5.5 sacks in the final five games. The Georgia product needs to carry that over and be a force on Sunday. With Hali out, Kansas City needs Houston to flush Ryan out of the pocket and generally make him feel rushed.
On the other side, Cameron Sheffield/Andy Studebaker have to make their presence felt. Even if neither record a sack, they just can't be invisible. Sam Baker is a sub-standard left tackle that the Chiefs can expose in a variety of ways including a straight-ahead rush or a blitz package.
3) Keep White and Jones in check: If Brandon Flowers plays (and it sounds like he will), Kansas City can just about eliminate one of the two Atlanta receivers. The problem lies in who covers, presumably, Julio Jones? Stanford Routt draws the assignment and could be a respectable match-up because of his size and physicality.
However, Routt is going to need help. It wouldn't be a surprise if Eric Berry is constantly playing over the top of Jones to give Routt some more options at the line. The Falcons don't have a third receiver to worry about, but they do have Tony Gonzalez. The Chiefs need to figure out a way to contain Gonzalez with either a linebacker or safety in a sub-package formation.
4) Cassel needs to win on 3rd Down: Cassel doesn't need to throw for 300 yards in this game. In fact, if he does Kansas City probably loses. However, Cassel does need to keep the chains moving on third down when the Chiefs are in the position.
Kansas City is built to run the football and hit on intermediate passes, something that tailors to Cassel's game. He must execute and make a key play occasionally in order to be successful.
5) Hold Michael Turner under 80 yards: The Chiefs will have an excellent chance to win if Turner is stifled. The once great running back is still good but not the same player of two years ago. It's a must for Kansas City to contain Turner on first and second down, forcing the Falcons into obvious passing downs.
If that happens, the Chiefs can pin their ears back and get after Ryan, thus helping to deal with the loss of Hali. Romeo Crennel could also employ extra defensive backs, making it much harder for Ryan to find windows and easier to intercept him.