The 2019 Atlanta Falcons are bad. In fact, at 1-7, they have had the worst eight-game start to a season of all Falcons team in the last decade (since 2009, the low mark had been the 2-6 starts of 2013 and 2014). They have lost home games to the mediocre Tennessee Titans (by 14) and to the Arizona Cardinals. They were blown out by 21 points in Houston and by 27 points in Atlanta at the hands of the Los Angeles Rams.
Opposite this high level of putridity, are the 7-1 Saints, who on Sunday afternoon in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, will be trying to extend their current winning streak against the Falcons to four games dating back to 2017. A Saints’ win would narrow the Falcons’ all-time series lead to 49-52. Chew on this: since 2006 and the arrival of Sean Payton in New Orleans, the Saints have a 18-8 record against the Falcons. In that span, they have made up 10 games in the teams’ all-time rivalry.
Despite all the statistics seemingly weighing heavily in favor of the Saints, the 1-7 Atlanta Falcons can still beat the 7-1 New Orleans Saints this coming Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Why? Because the NFL is a league based on parity. Because sometimes good teams forget that they need to do more than just show up to win. Because sometimes bad teams remember that they still have the talent to beat good teams. And finally, because nothing sparks fire in a bad team like a rivalry game.
In a stacked NFC conference that boasts the only undefeated team in the NFL in the San Francisco 49ers (8-0), the Saints cannot afford any slip-up with regards to potential postseason seeding. On the other hand, the Falcons are already making winter vacation travel plans and they are coming to New Orleans with absolutely no pressure. With nothing to lose, a Matt Ryan-led Falcons team would relish the chance to at least hamper the Saints’ playoffs positioning aspirations. Misery loves company.
Thus, despite both teams’ records, when Atlanta has the ball, the Saints would be wise to beware of a receiving corps spearheaded by Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. Although he is starting the inevitable slow decline that occurs in many NFL players once they reach the age of 30, Jones is still 6th in the NFL in receiving yards (712) and 11th in receptions (50). He also has four receiving touchdowns through eight games. As Ridley is experiencing somewhat of a sophomore slump with only 33 catches for 443 yards and four touchdowns on the season, outpacing both he and Jones is surging tight end Austin Hooper. In his fourth-year since being drafted by Atlanta in the third round in the 2016 NFL draft, the former Stanford standout is finally blossoming into a bona fide NFL pass-catcher. With 52 catches, Hooper is ninth in the NFL through eight games. He leads the Falcons with five touchdown receptions and is on pace for 1,182 receiving yards.
Defensively, Football Outsiders has the Falcons rated as the 30th defense in the NFL (16% DVOA overall rating). However, although Atlanta has the 31st rated pass defense with a dreadful 50.5% DVOA rating, they are 10th against the run (-15.8% DVOA). You can bet that the Falcons will crowd the line of scrimmage and do what seems to be the unthinkable: dare Drew Brees to pass. However, this strategy is their only chance to have any success against the Saints’ offense, and although this isn’t something Saints fans like to acknowledge, throughout his illustrious career, Brees has at times been susceptible to forcing bad passes into tight coverage. If the Falcons’ beleaguered secondary can force a turnover or two, it will give Atlanta’s offense the few extra possessions that it will absolutely need to put some pressure on New Orleans on Sunday.
The Saints better know that they must show up, but also play with maximum effort to defeat the Falcons on Sunday. An encouraging sign was the team’s effort in finishing the right way during its 31-9 win against the Arizona Cardinals two weeks ago, a game in which the Saints’ defense did not allow a single touchdown, not even in garbage time.
Sunday’s game will be Atlanta’s 2019 “playoff opener,” and one can fully expect the Falcons to play inspired coming off their bye week. It is a good thing that the Saints too are coming off their own bye, and that Sean Payton’s Saints teams are 8-2 following the in-season break since 2009, with the last loss coming back in 2015.
How do you expect the Saints to show up vs. the Falcons?
This poll is closed
Ready to go. They will blow dem Dirty Birds out
Sluggish, but they will win a close game
Uninspired and sloppy. Atlanta wins a close one
Saints will put up a 50-burger. And I will eat 50 burgers!