Atlanta (1-7; 2-6 ATS) at New Orleans (7-1; 6-2 ATS)
Early line: Saints (minus-12.5 points). Total: (51.5)
ATL 9TH OFF; NO 5TH DEF
ATL 29TH RUN; NO 4TH vs. RUN
ATL 1ST PASS; NO 16TH vs. PASS
ATL 20TH PTS; NO 10TH PTS ALLOWED
NO 14TH OFF; ATL 24TH DEF
NO 15TH RUN; ATL 21ST vs. RUN
NO 10TH PASS; ATL 23RD vs. PASS
NO 15TH PTS; ATL 30TH PTS ALLOWED
ATL 31ST TO/TA; NO T9TH TO-TA
Both these NFC South division rivals are coming off byes. Falcons lead all-time series 52-48-0, but Saints have won last 3 games in series, including series sweep last season. In Week 3 barn-burner last season at Atlanta, Saints prevailed 43-37 on a 1-yard TD run with 2:55 remaining in OT by QB Drew Brees, whose 7-yard TD scamper with 1:15 remaining in regulation sent the game into overtime (Saints outgained Falcons 534-407). In second meeting last season in Week 12 on Thanksgiving in NO, Saints beat Atlanta 31-17. Falcons outgained Saints 366-312 in Week 12 affair, but they were outrushed 150-26, surrendered 6 sacks for 37 yards in losses and made 4 turnovers (3 lost fumbles). Saints' next four games are against divisional foes, with two coming against the struggling Falcons.
FALCONS owner Arthur Blank spent bye week reevaluating the coaching staff and the front office, with head coach Dan Quinn widely considered to be on life support with his team barely treading water at 1-7 (4-12 since Week 9 last season) entering the second half of the season.
Based on Blank's remarks after FALCONS’ 27-20 Week 8 home loss to Seahawks, GM Thomas Dimitroff's job status is in question as much as Quinn's.
FALCONS led the league in yards passing (316.8 ypg) entering Week 9 action — but that's more a function of playing catch-up than anything else. The defense ranked last in sacks (7) and 3rd-down percentage (53.0) and 31st in scoring (31.2 ypg), the offense ranked 29th in rushing (68.5 ypg) and the team was ranked 31st in TO margin (minus-11).
FALCONS have only four takeaways this season, and two of them came in one game on interceptions by CB Marcus Trufant.
But no numbers are more shocking than 144-50, FALCONS’ combined deficit in first halves. The trend continued vs. Seattle when the scoreboard read 24-0 at intermission. Losers of six straight, the Falcons have trailed by double digits six times entering the third quarter.
FALCONS have insisted all along that effort isn't lacking, but the results have been dreadful. Even an emotional postgame talk from star WR1 Julio Jones provided no spark in Week 8 after blowout loss to the Rams the previous week.
Quinn indicated that QB Matt Ryan, whose right-ankle injury forced him to miss his first game since 2009 in Week 8, could have likely played if the FALCONS had a game last week, so expect him to return Sunday in New Orleans. In 7 games, Ryan has a superb 70.9 completion percentage (202-of-285-for 2,170 yards) with a not-so-superb 15-8 TD-INT ratio (98.7 QB rating).
In relief of Ryan in Week 8, FALCONS backup Matt Schaub, making his first start since 2015 for Baltimore, showed that he could still put up numbers. Schaub made two bad throws, an INT and a would-be pick that was dropped, but the 38-year old otherwise moved his feet well in the pocket and passed for 460 yards.
Jones was ranked 3rd in league in yards receiving entering Week 9 action and leads the FALCONS with 712 yards on 50 receptions (14.2 ypc) and has four TD catches. TE Austin Hooper is also having a very solid year, leading team in receptions (52) and TD catches (five).
Not surprisingly, FALCONS released PK Matt Bryant early last week after the team’s leading scorer in franchise history missed three times from 50-plus yards in the last 2 games and yanked an extra-point attempt three games ago that would've forced overtime at Arizona. The Falcons brought in Younghoe Koo as Bryant's replacement.
In FALCONS’ Week 3 loss to Saints, last season, Ryan had 26-35-374-5 TDs-0 INTs (148.1 QB rating) while getting sacked 3 times and 4-12 rushing and a long of 7, the Falcons gained only 22-48 rushing, WR Curtis Ridley had 7-146-3 receiving on 8 targets and a long of 75 (TD) and a nine-yard run and Jones had 5-96 receiving on 6 targets and a long of 58.
In FALCONS’ Week 12 loss to Saints, last season, Ryan had 35-47-377-2 TDs-1 INT (102.9 QB rating) and 3 fumbles (one lost), Jones had 11-147 receiving on 14 targets with a long of 21 and a lost fumble, Ridley had 8-93-1 receiving on 13 targets and a long of 50 and a lost fumble and S Damontae Kazee had an INT and 5 tackles.
SAINTS were no worse for the wear with Brees back under center in 31-9 home victory over Cardinals that gave NO a very impressive 6-game win streak entering their bye last week. Brees looked like he had not lost a beat in convincing victory, despite the absences of star RB Alvin Kamara and top receiving TE Jared Cook (check statuses).
Brees completed 34-of-43 passes for 373 yards and three touchdowns with one INT (116.4 QB rating) in SAINTS’ triumph over an Arizona squad that came in on a three-game winning streak.
To some extent, Brees relied on SAINTS WR1 Michael Thomas, who had 11 catches for 112 yards and a touchdown. But Brees also connected with eight other receivers in Week 8 win.
When he wasn't throwing deep to SAINTS WR Ted Ginn Jr. (2 catches, 42 yards) or tossing short passes to RB Latavius Murray (9 catches, 55 yards, TD), he was finding reserve QB/utility player Taysom Hill (3 catches, 63 yards, TD) and TE Josh Hill (3 catches, 39 yards). Dan Arnold, Deonte Harris, Zach line and Austin Carr also caught at least one ball.
SAINTS’ Thomas has been stellar the first half of the season, leading the league in yards receiving with 875 (109.4 ypg; 12.0 ypc) and grabbing 4 TD catches (3 in last 4 games).
In two games serving as SAINTS’ RB1 because of Kamara's injury, Murray surpassed 100 yards rushing each time and totaled at least 150 yards from scrimmage while scoring two TDs in each game.
NO’s defense, meanwhile, just keeps getting better and better. SAINTS registered 3 sacks and held Arizona to 40 yards rushing in Week 8 win. The defense has limited 5 straight opponents to 257 or fewer net yards and hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 34 games, including playoffs.
While the defense has been exceptional overall, it’s worth noting that SAINTS have intercepted just three passes and ranked 24th in that category entering Week 9 action.
SAINTS DE Cameron Jordan entered Week 9 action in a 3-way tie for 4th in sacks with 8 and has registered 6 sacks in last 4 games.
In SAINTS’ secondary, 2017 Defensive Rookie of the Year CB Marshon Lattimore has shaken off a pedestrian first couple of games and has begun to lock down top receivers, from Dallas' Amari Cooper to Tampa Bay's Mike Evans and Jacksonville's D.J. Chark.
PK Wil Lutz, who has exhibited a strong, accurate leg for most of his 3½ seasons with the SAINTS, has missed three of his last five field goal attempts.
In addition to Kamara and Cook, check status of WR Tre’Quan Smith (ankle; DNP in Week 8).
In SAINTS’ Week 3 win over Falcons last season, Brees had 39-49-396-3 TDs-0 INTs (120.7 QB rating) and 3-7-2 rushing, Kamara had 15-124 receiving on 20 targets and a long of 21 and 16-66 rushing and a long of 17, Thomas had 10-129 receiving on 10 targets and a long of 35, Jordan had 2 sacks and 5 tackles and Lutz connected on 3-of-3 FGs (49, 21, 45)
In SAINTS’ Week 12 win over Falcons last season, Brees had 15-22-171-4 TDs (to 4 different receivers)-1 INT (111.9 QB rating); Kamara had 14-89 rushing with a long of 18 and 1-9 receiving; Jordan had 2 sacks, 3 hurries and 4 tackles; and WILL LB Demario Davis had a sack, a FF, 4 hurries and 6 tackles.
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