By Cedric Williams

Could any team be making a more triumphant return home than the 3-0 Atlanta Falcons will be doing this weekend, when they’ll be back at the Georgia Dome for the first time in three weeks for a matchup against the Houston Texans?

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Maybe the answer is yes. But no team in NFL history before these 3-0 Falcons has ever won each of its first three games after trailing heading into the fourth quarter in each of them.

The Dome will be rockin’ on Sunday, no doubt. But the opponent this week is an intriguing one, as the Texans will come to town with a pretty good defense, an improving offense (now that Houston has found a quarterback it likes), and a chance to even its record before it hosts a huge Thursday Night game against its top division rival next week.

Can anyone say ‘trap game’?

Season Record

The Texans will come to town with a 1-2 record this season, with that one win coming this past Sunday against lowly Tampa Bay. So some might think, “big deal, Houston beat Tampa, the team that had the worst record in the league last season.”

But a closer look at the Texans shows, that club was right in both their first two games — losses to Kansas City and Carolina — with both games coming down to Houston’s final possession. The Texans had the ball and a chance to win both those games at the end, or at least send them both to overtime.

Now they didn’t get the job done, and this league is all about getting the job done. But despite the losing record, Houston is not a bad team. The Texans are a team that just hasn’t been quite as successful in its first three games as its wanted to be.

Houston on Offense

Through three games, the Houston offense has been pretty good. Again, not as good as the Texans would like to be, but not nearly as bad as their record would make it seem.

Houston ranks 13th in both passing and rushing this season, with 254.7 pass yards and 115.0 rush yards per game. So the Texans seem to move the ball fine, with quarterback Ryan Mallett leading an offense that features a good young running back in Alfred Blue, and a pair of good receivers in DeAndre Hopkins and former Tennessee Titan Nate Washington.

The problem for Houston has been scoring. Way too often this season, the Texans have moved the ball into scoring range, but instead of coming away with touchdowns, they’ve had to settle for field goals. Houston is tied for 23rd in the league in points at 18.7 per game, which on most days is just not going to be enough to win.

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on Defense

Houston runs a basic 3-4 defense with what should be an outstanding and athletic front 7, led by Watt, that keeps them next the top of the league in most defensive categories. But instead, the Texans have been only middle of the pack good in just about every category (12th overall – 332.7 yards allowed, 19th in rushing – 108.7 yards allowed, 12th in passing – 224.0 yards allowed).

What Houston has been good at on defense though is not allowing all those yards it gives up to turn into points. The Texans are 10th in the league in points allowed at 20.0 per game. Match that up with only scoring 18.7 points per game and it’s easy to see why the Texans have had trouble winning games, even though they haven’t played nearly as badly as their record indicates.

Houston’s Players to Watch

The key to what Houston does on offense always comes back to its running back and whether or not he is effective. Last week, Alfred Blue was fantastic for the Texans, with 31 carries for 139 yards and a touchdown.

Moving the ball on the ground allowed Houston to control the game’s tempo, and it really opened the passing game, especially play-action passing, which led to a number big plays for the Texans.

On defense, Houston’s main man is Watt, but the Texans also feature one of the best linebackers in the league in seventh-year pro and former Defensive Rookie of the Year (2009) Brian Cushing, who once again leads the club in tackles with 22 stops in three games.

Outlook

Atlanta hasn’t been 4-0, or anything close to it, since 2012. So a win on Sunday could really set the Falcons up for a magic carpet ride kind of season, especially with what appears to be a less than difficult schedule, which might not feature any opponent with a winning record until Atlanta faces Indianapolis in Week 11.

And for Houston, a win on Sunday would get them back to the .500 mark at 2-2, with a huge AFC South divisional contest next Thursday night at home against that same Indianapolis team.

This is a big game for both clubs. The question will be, can the Texans stay with the high-flying Falcons?

If Houston can keep the scoring low, the Texans will have a shot to steal a victory on the road. But if Atlanta can get going like it did in the final three quarters Sunday in Dallas, the Falcons might be able to blow the Texans right off the Georgia Dome field.

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Cedric Williams, a lifelong St. Louisan and proud UMSL alum, has been a full-time reporter/photographer covering St. Louis area sports for nearly two decades. Most recently, he has been working as a credentialed beat writer covering the NFL, as well as college and high school sports for the St. Louis American, Patch.com, and other outlets from around the area. Please share any comments, questions, or feedback with Cedric at cedricwilliams510@gmail.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.