Just because there are no playoff implications in this game doesn’t mean there is no intrigue. Storylines abound, with this potentially being the last appearance as a Saint for both Sean Payton and Drew Brees. By contrast, this game marks the end of the first season for Dan Quinn as Falcons HC, one which can be best described as ‘up & down’. A win for Quinn’s Falcons would mean finishing above .500, and narrowly missing out on a playoff berth, a reasonable return for any first year HC. It would still, however, represent a bittersweet ending to a season that started 5–0 before falling off a cliff. Much optimism abounds though that Atlanta will challenge for the NFC South title next season. Finishing over .500 is, sadly for Saints fans, a unachievable goal for New Orleans who already have 9 losses this season. This represents the 3rd time in the last 4 seasons that this has happened, despite the presence of Drew Brees under center. What is perhaps most remarkable is that only 3 times in NFL history has a QB thrown for 4500 /30 TDs and had a losing season – Drew Brees 2012, 2014, 2015.
Keys to the Game
- Can Atlanta generate a pass rush? In a hugely positive development for Falcons fans their defense was able to pressure Cam Newton last week behind a strong performance from rookie Vic Beasley. If Atlanta can replicate that this week it will cause problems for Brees and further raise the hopes of the Atlanta fan base for 2016.
- Can New Orleans find a defense? Changing co-ordinator from Rob Ryan to Dennis Allen has, so far, failed to deliver any improved performance by the New Orleans defensive unit, again on course to rank at, or near, the bottom of the league in every statistical category.
- Can Matt Ryan limit critical turnovers? Matt Ryan hasn’t been a bad QB this season – 4,250 yards passing, 19TDs – but his play has been marred by committing turnovers at inopportune moments, namely in the RedZone. While tough to hear, these turnovers are probably the reason Atlanta is not going to be playing playoff football next week.
Matchup to Watch
Julio Jones vs The Entire NO Secondary
It will be no secret that Matt Ryan is going to target Jones early, often and then more against the Saints this week with NFL records tantalisingly within reach. There is no better opponent for them to come up against while chasing history than the utterly inept New Orleans Secondary, by far the worst in the league.
This should be a really good game to watch, both teams will be airing the ball out and I would expect a high scoring affair. Ultimately though, I expect the Atlanta defense to make more plays than the Saints and win this game.