The NFL’s Thursday Night football matchup features the intense Atlanta Falcons/New Orleans Saints rivalry that has existed since both teams came into the league a year apart from each other. The Falcons lead the series 49-43. At stake for the Falcons is the opportunity for them to win their first NFC South division contest this year and allow them to keep pace with the also undefeated, Carolina Panthers. On the line for the Saints is avoiding a loss to every team in the NFC South division and basically shutting down any playoff hopes.
This year the two teams have been truly going in opposite directions. Atlanta goes into New Orleans brimming with confidence after a hard fought over-time victory against a really tough Washington Redskins defense. The Falcons have shown championship caliber resolve in winning 4 of their 5 games after trailing in the 4th quarter of each contest.
As for the Saints, somebody put out an all-points bulletin for the team that was once a playoff threat every year. The organization’s inept handling of the salary cap has resulted in the loss of several key players. Add to that, a steady diet of mistake-filled play on the field and what you have is a team going in the wrong direction in a hurry, from riches to rags.
Turnovers and penalties are the quickest way to lose games in the NFL and the Saints have been committing them in bunches. In just 5 short weeks they have already committed 40 penalties and last week Drew Brees committed 3 turnovers that led to 17 points for the Philadelphia Eagles in a 39-17 lost.
Yet, despite the Saints constantly shooting themselves in the foot, they still have the 3rd ranked passing team in the league and so cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford will be challenged with a real test if Brees gets any time at all. With no real run threat from the Saints, the front 7 of Atlanta will need to pressure Brees enough that his passing yardage can at least be managed to a reasonable level and keep the Saints scoring down.
The surprising Falcons defense is now ranked number 1 against the run and is allowing only 78 rushing yards per game. The Falcons have been playing outstanding overall defense as well during their five-game win streak. The Saints have allowed a sack in each game at a rate of 3 sacks per game; including 5 in this past Sunday’s Eagles game.
Offensively, the Falcons’ offense was slowed by the 3rd ranked Redskins defense, but made plays when they needed to make them in the end. The explosive duo of Julio Jones and Davonta Freeman lead a balanced attack that is ranked in the top ten in overall yards per game (406, 4th); passing (280, 8th); and rushing yards (126, 9th). Freeman had a particularly good day with 153 yards. A squad that has been decimated with injuries, the Saints are dead last in defense and will be no match against an offense that will no doubt attempt to score early and often to quiet the crowd and keep the Saints in a come-back position.
Thursday night games in the NFL can sometimes become lopsided affairs but in most division rivalry games you can disregard the team records and look for a tough fight. Also, the most dangerous opponent in the NFL is the team that is desperate for a win. The Saints are looking for answers to turn around their fortunes and at home in front of a much hyped crowd is just the right time and place to do it. The Falcons are just not the right team.
There’s just not enough meat left on the bones of the Saints’ roster for them to offer a real threat to end the Atlanta Falcons undefeated win streak. Falcon fans can break out the gumbo and celebrate on Bourbon Street with a sixth win.