The New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons cap off the NFL's Thanksgiving extravaganza by renewing one of the league's most bitter rivalries. This will mark the 102nd meeting between the Saints and Falcons, with Atlanta holding a 53-48 edge in the series. That includes a 27-23 edge when the games are played in Atlanta, site of tonight's affair. This is the second straight year that New Orleans and Atlanta have tangled on Thanksgiving, with the Saints winning 31-17 at home a year ago.
New Orleans enters this showdown with a 9-2 record, and can clinch their third straight NFC South championship with a win. Atlanta comes in at 3-8, and has one of the worst defenses in the league. The Falcons did defeat the Saints in New Orleans earlier this month though, 26-9, in a game where they dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides. This rivalry has been unpredictable and full of fireworks, and we should expect no different in this holiday battle. Here are a few of the Saints players who will play key roles in whether New Orleans takes Thanksgiving revenge over their hated foe.
The 29-Yr old Omameh will be starting at left tackle in place of the injured Terron Armstead. He is in his first year with the Saints, and his fifth team in seven NFL seasons. He had played 17 offensive snaps for New Orleans this season before playing 54 snaps after replacing Armstead in last week's win over the Carolina Panthers. The 6'4 327-lb. Omameh had a solid outing, although he did give up a sack to Brian Burns on the opening play of the Saints game-winning drive.
Omameh will be one of two reserves now in a starting role along the left side of the Saints offensive line, with guard Nick Easton in place of Andrus Peat (broken arm) being the other. Omameh will be charged with protecting Drew Brees against Atlanta edge rushers Vic Beasley and Takkarist McKinley. The Falcons have only 18 sacks on the season, with 11 of those coming in two games. One of those games was a shocking six sack outing of Brees during Atlanta's Week 10 victory, however. The Saints also abandoned the running game early in that loss, rushing only 11 times for 52 yards. Omameh and the rest of his linemates must establish control of the line of scrimmage early in this game for offensive balance. It's something that New Orleans has done successfully most of this season, but failed to do against the Falcons just three weeks ago.
Kamara is the Saints leading rusher with 526 yards and second leading receiver with 60 receptions for 421 yards despite missing nearly three games with an ankle injury. Kamara has scored just twice though, and has had his big plays limited thanks to tremendous defensive focus from opponents. Neither Kamara or fellow running back Latavius Murray had much of an impact in the loss to the Falcons earlier this month, combining for only 93 yards on 19 touches. Each back must play a more productive role in the rematch to help New Orleans establish a balanced offense. Kamara, who is one of the most versatile weapons in the league, sets the Saints apart from most other offenses.
The third year back has yet to score a touchdown in five meetings against Atlanta. He has caught 34 passes for 266 yards in those matchups, adding another 213 yards on the ground. The Falcons have two athletic linebackers in Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell who have done a nice job in containing his impact in those games. Kamara must reassert himself as one of the NFL's most feared weapons for this Saints offense down the stretch of the year and into the playoffs. Ability to do just that in this contest may very well be the difference between a win or loss this evening.
Ted Ginn Jr.
Ginn is coming off a rough game against the Panthers last week, dropping one deep pass and running a poor route on another. Ginn has caught just 53% of his targets, resulting in 24 receptions for 348 yards and two scores. He isn't the top option for the New Orleans passing attack, but does have the trust of quarterback Drew Brees. Wideout Michael Thomas and tight end Jared Cook will almost certainly be productive against the Falcons 27th ranked pass defense. Ginn, or receiver Tre'Quan Smith, must begin to give this team some complimentary production to shift some of the defensive focus away from Thomas and Cook.
Lattimore is questionable to play in tonight's game after missing the previous two contests with a hamstring injury suffered against the Falcons on November 10th. He is one of the game's top cornerbacks, and has keyed an improved New Orleans pass defense with his outstanding coverage ability. Lattimore's showdowns with Atlanta wideout Julio Jones have been epic, and would be another vital key to the outcome of this game. Jones has been limited with his own injury (shoulder), but teams up with Calvin Ridley to give the Falcons a dynamic passing attack.
New Orleans cornerback Eli Apple has proven just as capable of covering either Falcons receiver. Assuming both wideouts play though, the Saints will need their top coverage tandem to limit Atlanta's 3rd ranked passing game. Lattimore's status is likely to be determined in pregame warmups. If he cannot go or is limited, all eyes will turn to:
Williams played well starting in place of Lattimore against Tampa Bay two weeks ago. He did not fare nearly as well against the Panthers, giving up 2 touchdown passes and well over 100 yards receiving when targeted. Williams has been most effective when used in slot coverage with somewhat limited snaps. He will once again be thrust into a bigger role if Lattimore is sidelined, however. If that happens, Apple will probably take Ridley in man coverage duties while Williams locks up on Julio Jones. He did hold Jones to 3 catches after Lattimore exited the game earlier this month, but one of them was a key 54-Yd gain.
The entire New Orleans secondary will play a major role in this prime time showdown, and whether the Saints culminate Thanksgiving day with an NFC title for dessert.
Which of these New Orleans players need to have the biggest game this evening?
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Ted Ginn Jr.