The Falcons and Saints are in entirely different phases of roster building. Atlanta has emersed itself in mountains of dead money to kickstart the inevitable rebuild they were always facing. The Falcons roster is deficient in many areas. On the other hand, New Orleans is competing with playoff expectations. The Saints’ front office has consistently worked the salary cap in a way to build a contender year in and year out. The stark difference between these two rosters is the expectations, but let’s see how the teams match up on paper.
The Falcons enter a new era without Matt Ryan at the helm, replacing him with Marcus Mariota. Jameis Winston and Mariota have been linked for much of their careers after being the top two quarterback prospects selected in the 2015 NFL Draft. At this point, Winston probably has the edge because he’s more recently been a starter but not by much. Mariota should prove to be a productive signal caller in Arthur Smith’s offense.
Advantage: Saints (slightly)
The Falcons re-signed Cordarrelle Patterson while adding Damien Williams and Tyler Allgeier through free agency and the draft. The Saints boast one of the most impressive all-around backs in football in Alvin Kamara. Despite Patterson’s breakout campaign last season, Kamara is still the superior player.
I didn’t want to separate the receivers and tight ends because that’s not how football works. Kyle Pitts, Drake London, Bryan Edwards, and Cordarrelle Patterson will be Atlanta’s top targets this season. At the same time, Michael Thomas, Jarvis Landry, Chris Olave, and Alvin Kamara will lead the way for New Orleans. Pitts is the best receiver here, and it’s not particularly close. Thomas certainly was one of the premier receivers in the league a few years ago, but he’s coming off a significant injury. Saints fans would be wise to temper expectations in his return.
Still, Pitts being the best of this group doesn’t necessarily give the Falcons the edge. Landry is better than Edwards, and Kamara is the best receiving back in football. Olave and London are rookies, which should be considered a wash at this point. The Falcons will have the best receiving target on the field, but the Saints have the next best three. For argument’s sake, though, I’ll designate this as a push.
This one doesn’t need to be deliberated. The Falcons’ offensive line is a mess; the only reliable players are Chris Lindstrom and Jake Matthews. There are a lot of unknowns regarding Elijah Wilkinson and Drew Dalman; combine that with the inconsistencies of Kaleb McGary, and the Saints once again have the advantage. Even though New Orleans lost Terron Armstead this offseason, the offensive line for the Saints is still one of the better units in the league.
This, once again, isn’t necessarily close. At nearly all positions, the Saints’ defense is superior to the Falcons. Cam Jordan, Shy Tuttle, David Onyemata, and Marcus Davenport can rival any front four in football. Grady Jarrett is just as menacing as Jordan, but the combination of Ta’Quon Graham, Lorenzo Carter, and Ade Ogundeji doesn’t come close to the other defenders.
This one is actually pretty close, contrary to many Saints fans’ opinions. AJ Terrell and Marshon Lattimore are two of the best corners in the game; both fan bases believe their player is better. However, Paulson Adebo isn’t on Casey Hayward‘s level. As far as cornerback tandems go, not many can match what Atlanta boasts in Terrell and Hayward. The Falcons have the advantage at corner, but the same cannot be said at safety.
The Saints went out and signed Tyrann Mathieu and Marcus Maye, forming one of the best safety tandems in football. They’re interchangeable in nearly every facet, and the Falcons have two extremely inexperienced safeties in Richie Grant and Jaylinn Hawkins. This one isn’t even close; the Saints have the advantage.
Cornerback Advantage: Falcons
Safety Advantage: Saints
Photographer: Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire