In what is likely the most anticipated rematch of the 2012 season, the Atlanta Falcons welcome the New Orleans Saints to the Georgia Dome with every intention of defeating the team that handed them their only loss (8.20pm ET, Thursday).
Just three weeks ago, the Falcons were the hottest team in football. They were the NFL’s only remaining undefeated squad and with an 8-0 record. They looked like a sure bet to not only win the NFC South, the division recently owned by the Saints, but also to get the top seed throughout the playoffs.
While the Falcons are still one of the hottest teams this year having lost only one game, their attempt at a perfect season was tarnished by New Orleans.
Shortly before Atlanta fell to New Orleans, the Saints were mired in one of their worst slumps since before they had won the Super Bowl. With head coach Sean Payton suspended, the Saints fell to a 0-4 record to start the season. At the time the Saints took on their greatest divisional rival, they had actually managed to win three of their last four games.
The Falcons were huge favorites to win the match but ultimately the Saints came out on top. After beating the Falcons, New Orleans went on to win their next game against the Oakland Raiders before falling to the San Francisco 49ers. Because of this loss, if the Saints have any chance of making the playoffs, any at all, they will need to repeat their performance from three weeks ago and once again defeat the Falcons.
Keys to New Orleans’ Recent Success
Before losing to the 49ers, the Saints had begun to find consistency and as a result went on a pretty significant winning streak. In the process, New Orleans, behind team leader and quarterback Drew Brees, saw improvements on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
No one ever doubted or questioned Brees and his ability to lead the passing offense. In fact with Payton suspended, most expected that Brees would take on the leadership role for the team and that is exactly what he did. Even Brees however would acknowledge that his first few games were not as good as the ones he put together when the Saints were winners of five of their last six.
- Drew Brees Stats in Saints first four games: 10 TD, 5 INT, 1350 YDS (average of 337.5 per game)
- Drew Brees Stats During Five of Six Winning Streak: 18 TD, 4 INT, 1716 YDS (average of 286 per game)
As was expected of him, Brees performed well even when the Saints as a team did not. It is no coincidence however that with Brees’ slight improvements that the Saints were able to go on a prolonged winning period.
In addition to Brees being able to effectively utilize his incredible crop of offensive talent, the Saints on defense saw improvements as well.
At the beginning of the season, the New Orleans defense was the worst in the NFL in almost all significant defensive categories. Opposing teams would salivate at the opportunity to face this defense and as a result, quarterbacks and running backs alike put up monster numbers when they played the Saints.
- Game One: Washington defeats New Orleans 40-32. (WAS) QB Robert Griffin III passed for 320 yards on 19-of-26 passing. He scored two touchdowns and no interceptions. New Orleans forced zero turnovers.
- Game Two: Carolina defeats New Orleans 35-27. (CAR) QB Cam Newton threw for 253 yards on 14-of-20 passing. He also rushed for 71 yards and scored two touchdowns (one rushing). Two other running backs also scored touchdowns.
- Game Three: Kansas City defeats New Orleans 27-24. (KC) QB Matt Cassel passed for 248 yards. The Saints defense forced three turnovers and had three sacks. They were unable to stop RB Jamaal Charles however who carried the ball 33 times for 233 yards and a touchdown.
- Game Four: Green Bay defeats New Orleans 28-27. (GB) QB Aaron Rodgers threw for 319 yards on 31-of-41 passing. He passed for four touchdowns and just one interception.
In the span of those four games, New Orleans gave up the NFL worst 130 points for an average of 32.5 points a game, also the worst. The team also forced under eight turnovers, which ranked them near the bottom of the league.
To no surprise, even the powerful offense could not overcome these numbers. Now, while the Saints defense has not improved perfectly, it is gotten better at stopping the run and keeping opposing quarterbacks away from huge numbers as well. Essentially, the improved defense has given the Saints a chance to stay in games.
Can the Falcons Win Without Matt Ryan?
Expected to have a breakout season, the young Matt Ryan started strong. In his first four games, Ryan put up MVP numbers scoring 11 touchdowns while throwing just two interceptions. Non-coincidentally, the Falcons went on to have a 4-0 record during this time.
After throwing three interceptions in a win against the Raiders, Ryan was perfect with three touchdowns against the Eagles and neither a touchdown nor interception against the Cowboys. Even in the Falcons only loss, Ryan performed well with three touchdowns, one interception and a season high 411 passing yards.
It was the following week in a win against the Arizona Cardinals that Ryan had zero touchdowns and five interceptions. It was the worst game of his career.
That said, the Falcons still won. In both games this season in which Ryan threw for three or more interceptions, the Falcons won. So although the offense runs through Ryan, he has been assisted by strong defensive performances and a supporting cast on offense featuring two big name wide receivers and a Hall-of-Fame tight end.
New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons Picks
At home where the Falcons are nearly unbeatable, don’t expect anything less than a win. Take the Falcons to cover the three-and-a-half point deficit they have on the spread and secure their playoff berth. Expect it to be another shoot out as so many of these Brees/Ryan duels have turned out to be. To summarize:
- Bet on the Atlanta Falcons – 3.5pts @ betting odds of -105 with BetOnline Sportsbook. It is -3pts @ -130 with Bovada.
- Also, take the over on the total points at 55.5 @ -110 with BetOnline.
- NOTE to Non-Americans: Place these bets with Bet365.