It is officially rivalry week, and there is nothing more thrilling for a non-playoff team than beating a playoff-contending rival. That is exactly what the Falcons plan on doing this Sunday in New Orleans. There might be rivalries that gain more national attention but make no mistake about it; this is one of the nastiest rivalries in the NFL. This series values pettiness and making sure that past slights, flops, and victories are never forgotten.
There is animosity between these two organizations at every single level. The players, fans, and staff are all explicit when describing their disdain for their counterparts. Fans and players shell hatred towards each other in person, on social media, in local media, and even through billboards. Growing up in Atlanta, then attending LSU, I can assure you from first-hand experience that these two organizations wish nothing but evil on each other; it truly is chilling. There is absolutely no mutual respect that exists in either fanbase’s hearts.
Many believe this game means nothing because the Falcons will likely not make the playoffs even with a win; those people should reconsider. Think back to November 10th, 2019; the 7–1 New Orleans Saints hosted the 1–7 Atlanta Falcons in the Superdome. However, the 14-point underdog Falcons shocked the Saints, beating them by a score of 26–9. The Falcons defense, which had just seven sacks all season, recorded six on Drew Brees, and the Saints were held without a touchdown. Although the Saints finished the season 13–3, the loss forced them to play on Wild-Card Weekend, in which the Saints infamously lost at home to the Minnesota Vikings in overtime.
Under a microscope, this game means little to everyone outside of these organizations. But if you expand the scope, this game has immense playoff seeding implications. The Packers, Cardinals, Rams, Seahawks, and Buccaneers are all in a position to benefit from a Saints loss, while a win for New Orleans will likely cement their place atop the division.
The recent competitiveness between the two teams only adds to the drama. Both quarterbacks have been excellent when facing each other. Before the 2018 matchup on Thanksgiving day, Chase Irle detailed exactly why this rivalry is one of the NFL’s best. At that time, the two quarterbacks had unbelievable stat lines when playing each other. Two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks dueling it out will surely add to an already tense matchup.
Drew Brees (vs. Falcons): 26 games, 68.51 completion %, 49 touchdowns, and 26 interceptions (97.0 passer rating)
Matt Ryan (vs. Saints): 20 games, 65.07 completion %, 37 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions (99.3 passer rating)
Since then, they have competed head-to-head three additional times. The stat lines for the Thanksgiving game in 2018 and the two matchups in 2019 are below:
Drew Brees (2018): 68.2%, 171 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 1 interception; (2019): 71.1%, 287 yards; (2019): 60%, 184 yards, and 1 touchdown
Matt Ryan (2018): 74.5%, 377 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception; (2019): 57.1%, 182 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception; (2019): 70%, 312 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions
“There’s rarely a year where one of these teams isn’t in the playoffs. And even when one fails to make the postseason, they always have enough talent to make things tough on the other. Since Matt Ryan was drafted in 2008, 14 of the 21 meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less, and the Falcons and Saints have missed the playoffs in the same season just two times,” Chase mentioned in the same 2018 article. (As of 11/21/2018)
The most notable NFL rivalries are no longer front-page news. The four NFC East teams have hostility for each and every divisional opponent, but outside of the Eagles Super Bowl run, none have found recent success. The Rams and 49ers, Chiefs and Raiders, and the Chargers and Broncos rivalries are historic but have not been as critical as they have been in their heydays.
Overall series lead: Falcons, 53-49
Longest series winning streak: 10 (Falcons, 1995-99)