Falcons vs. Saints
Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia
September 23rd, 2018
Hate week is in full effect between the rival fans of the Falcons and Saints. Like most years, the two teams split last year’s meeting, with the home side walking away a winner both times. This time around the Falcons hold home-field advantage, but there is rarely an uncompetitive game when these teams are on the field together.
After each team finished a play shy of facing off in the NFC Championship game, both entered 2018 with Super Bowl aspirations. Aspirations that still exist, but have been given a major reality check in the opening weeks.
Beginning with New Orleans, their defense that surprised everyone a year ago looks to have regressed back to par. Ryan Fitzpatrick absolutely torched the Saints in their own building in week one. The Bucs nearly dropped a fifty-bucket through three quarters in a statement victory.
New Orleans was able to find a way to avoid being the eventual joker that lost to Cleveland first but looked far from Super Bowl contenders in a 21-18 win. In fact, they still allowed Tyrod Taylor and a sad Browns offense to put up over 300 yards and were out gained by a considerable amount.
However, it is the early weeks of the season and the Saints will look a lot whole different ten weeks from now. They are a notoriously slow starting team that has begun 0-2 the last two seasons, so starting off an ugly 1-1 is actually a step up.
The Falcons have come across far more grave problems. Atlanta has lost three starters to Injured Reserve, with two already ruled out for the remainder of the season. The healthiest teams are often the last one’s standing at the end of the year, and it’s already at the point where the Falcons cannot afford any more injuries. That would require a monumental change of luck. Even the most blessed teams will lose some bodies over the season’s final fifteen weeks.
That is what makes this such a key early season matchup. Two rivals looking for some identity and an early edge in the NFC South. Both games a year ago were low scoring, with no team topping more than 23 points. That will not be the case this season, as week 3 is set to be a shootout in Atlanta.
It is crucial that Atlanta is able to run the football. If Tevin Coleman runs for over 100 yards, it’s hard seeing the Falcons losing at home. The offensive line absolutely dominated Carolina last week, a complete 180 from the season opener in Philadelphia. The Saints probably have the worst run defense the Falcons have faced thus far, so Atlanta should be able to open up some running lanes and take pressure off Matt Ryan and the passing game.
Speaking of the passing game, Ryan was nearly perfect a week ago. More importantly, Falcons fans had the opportunity to see Calvin Ridley’s skill set. The trio of Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, and Ridley is unlike any in the NFL and should have plenty of opportunities facing a suspect Saints secondary.
The problems will lie on the defensive side against a high-powered New Orleans offense. Michael Thomas is already a top-five wide receiver in the NFL (Don’t @ me). The third-year receiver out of Ohio State has 28 receptions for 269 yards an 3 TDs in two games this season. Atlanta has the athletes in the secondary to slow him down better than Tampa Bay and Cleveland, but it is still going to be a long day for those back there dealing with him for sixty minutes.
Ultimately, Atlanta’s defensive success will hinge on how they fare against Alvin Kamara. The guy is a walking game changer, and you can believe he is fully aware Deion Jones will be wearing street clothes. The Falcons may be able to stop New Orleans from establishing a significant rushing attack, but Kamara is even more deadly through the air, and there probably is not a better coach at getting his running backs involved in the passing game than Sean Payton.
I wrote in my bold predictions that I see Kamara flirting with 150 yards receiving. In all honesty, I would be shocked if he did not at least hit the century mark in this one. Christian McCaffery was able to burn Atlanta through the air all day last week. Like I said in my bold predictions, Kamara has the same skill set, just two times better.
So what gives?
Honestly, not a lot. Vegas opened this line up at -3 for the Falcons. With the game taking place at home, they are basically saying they see these teams as dead even heading into week three. Atlanta has the home field advantage, and I believe that will be just enough to pull off some sort of wacky win.
Falcons win a shootout 35-33.