The Atlanta Falcons sit at 7-5 with a perfect opportunity to close the gap on the New Orleans Saints in the NFC South. A pivotal divisional matchup takes center stage on Thursday night when two of the league’s most high-powered offenses collide.
Everyone was ready to write off the Falcons earlier in the season after they got off to a surprisingly slow 3-3 start. There is still some skepticism that they’ll be able to secure a playoff spot in the NFC. The team has obviously taken a step back with offensive coordinator and play-calling guru Kyle Shanahan no longer at the controls.
Falcon quarterback Matt Ryan is still good, but he isn’t MVP-level good. He has spent most of the season working to get on the same wavelength with Shanahan’s replacement, Steve Sarkisian, who has dealt with his fair share of inconsistencies. They scored nine points in last week’s loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
It could turn into a similar outing against a Saint defense that is as formidable as it’s been in years. The completely revamped secondary combined with an underrated front seven has the Saints looking like a possible Super Bowl contender.
Oh, they also still have Drew Brees at quarterback. His presence alone makes them dangerous even when the rest of the pieces aren’t there. The Falcons can rest assured these aren’t the same Saints from last season.
Here are three bold predictions for Thursday night’s game.
Julio Jones will have only 3 receptions for under 50 yards
There are times when Falcon All-Pro wideout Julio Jones takes over a game as he did against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, when he caught 12 receptions for 253 yards and two touchdowns. Then there are strange, quiet nights like last week’s game against the Vikings, when he caught two passes for 24 yards.
Things won’t get any easier against a Saint defense that is 11th in the league against the pass. Jones will likely get matched with sensational rookie corner Marshon Lattimore, who is expected to return from an ankle injury. This Falcon offense has been beyond saving at times, even for the best receiver in football.
Lattimore won’t pitch a shutout, but he’ll frustrate Jones enough to force Ryan to look elsewhere with the football.
Saints will run it down Falcons’ throats (200 rushing yards)
Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara are potent and deadly, coming off a game when they ran over one of the best run-defense teams in the league, the Carolina Panthers. Not even Flex Seal will be enough to cover the holes those two will create against a defense that has proven vulnerable against the run. Brees doesn’t have to be the star for the Saints’ offense to shine these days. That thought should terrify the Falcons.
Saints will get 4 sacks on Matt Ryan
As though the Falcons didn’t already have enough problems to worry about on offense, they’ll be without guard Andy Levitre on Thursday, increasing the chances of Ryan getting up close and personal with Saint defensive end Cameron Jordan. The two-time Pro Bowler is on pace for a career season with 10 sacks, 38 tackles, seven pass deflections and two forced fumbles.
Levitre’s likely replacement is Ben Garland, a decent run blocker but shoddy pass protector. Ryan is coming into the game as one of the least sacked quarterbacks in the league.
It won’t be that way when he leaves.