Point spread: Falcons favored by 3.5 points
Over/under: 52 points
Location: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, La.
The Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints are set to square off tonight in a matchup between two NFC South franchises that are trending in polar opposite directions. The Falcons are entering the game with a 5-0 record and are widely considered to be one of the top two contenders for the NFC title and one of the top five overall teams in the NFL this year. The Saints, on the other hand, are entering this game with a 1-4 overall record and appear to be in full-fledged rebuilding mode. To make matters worse for New Orleans, rumors are starting to circulate that quarterback Drew Brees and/or head coach Sean Payton could be leaving town following the season. With all that being said, this is still a divisional rivalry game, and history has shown that the shortened practice weeks that come with playing Thursday night games can serve as the great equalizer for overmatched teams.
On paper this game looks like it could be a blowout in the Falcons’ favor. In reality, this will likely be a highly emotional, tightly contested prime time matchup. Here is a Cheat Sheet preview of what to look for, as well as a final prediction of tonight’s matchup.
1. What kind of impact will Julio Jones have?
For the last few weeks Jones has been dealing with a nagging hamstring injury, which is something that has the potential to seriously hinder his other-worldly explosive ability. He began the week listed as questionable on the injury report, but has since been upgraded to probable, meaning that he will be playing tonight. But with that being said, nobody really knows if he will be able to impact the game the way he is capable of when he is at full strength. This situation bears monitoring for the simple reason that if the Saints are going to have a chance tonight, they cannot let Jones single-handedly beat them.
2. Will the Saints be able to slow down the Falcons’ offense?
This matchup will likely determine the outcome of this game. The Falcons have one of the top five offenses in the league putting up a total of 406.2 yards and 32.4 points per game, and the Saints have one of the bottom five defenses in the league allowing 409 yards and 28.6 points per game. For New Orleans to have any chance at pulling off the upset in this game, they are going to have to play much better than they have all year up to this point. If they let Atlanta get into an early groove offensively, it will likely be a long night for defensive coordinator Rob Ryan (pictured above) and the Saints’ defense.
3. How big of a factor will the Saints’ home field advantage be?
The Saints have one of the best home field advantages in the league and have traditionally performed quite well in prime time games. They are 7-2 at the Superdome in their last nine meetings with the Falcons, and the crowd will surely be a factor tonight given the rivalry nature of this game. Still, the Falcons are clearly the better team in this matchup and if they can get off to a fast start, they could very well take the crowd out of the game before the first half comes to an end.
Final prediction: Falcons 33, Saints 24
This will be an offensive shootout of sorts with the visiting Falcons prevailing in the end. Running back Devonta Freeman will continue his run of impressive play, and quarterback Matt Ryan will turn in another strong performance. All said, the Falcons’ offense will overwhelm the Saints’ defense and improve to 6-0 on the season.