Kickoff: 8:25 p.m. EST, October 15
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, LA
Channel: CBS or NFL Network
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Tracy Wolfson
Radio: 92.9 The Game
It’s that time of year where the rivalry continues. Two teams that hate every part of each other will square off in primetime action on Thursday night. The Atlanta Falcons (5-0) look to win their first divisional game against the New Orleans Saints (1-4). Do not let the records fool you, as this will probably be the toughest test the Falcons will have to date. Anytime there’s a divisional game, especially against the Saints, throw the records out the door because this one is going to be a dog fight.
Since 2006, the New Orleans Saints record in primetime games is 22-9. Drew Brees and company are not afraid of the spotlight and are able to stay composed in these big games, and the Falcons will have to find a way to do the same. This might be the most underrated rivalry in football today. These teams have not always been good, but over the past 10 years, it is hard to find a better match up in the NFL. The Saints and their fans will be doing everything in their power to put an end to the Falcons perfect 5-0 start. Atlanta leads the all-time record 49-43, but ever since Sean Payton became the Saints head coach, New Orleans has won 13 out of 18 games.
There are many keys to the game, but one that has been talked about is Falcons star wide receiver, Julio Jones. Jones is one of the best receivers in the game, but he has been battling through a nagging hamstring injury. I would be shocked if Jones did not suit up on Thursday night, but he will likely be on a snap count throughout the game. Guys like Leonard Hankerson, Roddy White, Nick Williams, Jacob Tamme, and even Eric Weems will have to step up and make plays. Expect Tamme and White to be targeted more than before, as they will be counted on as veterans. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones have an unreal connection, but Ryan will have to spread the ball out more come Thursday.
The Falcons amazing story this year has been second-year running back, Devonta Freeman. Freeman has shocked not just all NFL fans, but many Falcons fans. The league-leader in touchdowns (8) will get his number called upon often on Thursday. Freeman has been explosive, quick, agile, elusive, and very strong running out of the backfield. Look for him to have five or more targets in the air also.
The Falcons will be missing an integral part on the offensive line. Center, Mike Person, will be sidelined due to an ankle injury. The offensive line has also been very effective, both against the pass and the run. Second-year player, James Stone, will be starting in place for Person.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Falcons will have their hands full facing Saints quarterback Drew Brees. Brees has decimated the Falcons since he became a Saint. A key matchup to watch on this side of the ball is the Falcons defensive line against the Saints offensive line. Saints offensive lineman Terron Armstead will likely return to action, as he and Jahri Evans will take on Falcons pass-rushers headlined by Vic Beasley.
Brandin Cooks has been the Saints number one receiver, but the emergence of Willie Snead has been very surprising. The 5’11” receiver had six catches for 141 yards last week against the Eagles, and it looks as if him and Drew Brees trust each other. Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford will take on Cooks and Snead, so that will also be a matchup to watch in the secondary.
The Falcons will be without linebacker Justin Durant. He will miss his second straight game due to a sprained elbow he suffered in Week 4. His backup Joplo Bartu will get a lot of playing time.
Like I stated earlier, throw the records out the door. The most underrated rivalry will take stage Thursday night on national television. Will the Atlanta Falcons continue their success and build on their perfect record? Or will the Saints add a win to their 22-9 record in prime-time games since 2006? Either way, the intensity in this match up should be very compelling for anyone to watch. Matt Ryan will have to spread the ball out more, as I do not expect Julio Jones to be very effective come Thursday. Devonta Freeman will have to have another great game, and the Saints will prepare to stop him. The Falcons defense is coming off a high, as Robert Alford sealed the deal and won the game in Week 5. The Saints will have a game plan to execute against Atlanta, but will it be enough? It will be an up-and-down game, but I expect the better coached and better team to prevail. Atlanta might get off to a shaky start in a raucous environment, but their talent should prevail through 4 quarters and they should move to 6-0 on Thursday night.
The Pick: Atlanta Falcons 27, New Orleans Saints 17