Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints

Atlanta Falcons
New Orleans Saints

This early showdown in the NFC South normally is reserved for prime-time viewing. But the division favorites instead will kick off in the traditional Sunday afternoon slot.
The Falcons are a trendy pick to unseat the Saints in the division. They got on track last week in a rout of the Cardinals but have not won in New Orleans since 2002. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan owns a glitzy 14–3 record in domed stadiums but is 0–2 in the Superdome. The stadium will be rocking Sunday with the archrival Falcons in town and the Saints at 2–0.
The Saints must replace Reggie Bush’s production on offense and special teams. They’ve done it before, going 8–4 in games he missed the previous three seasons. In fact, the Saints averaged more yards (430.7 ypg) and points (33.3 ppg) in the games Bush missed the previous three seasons than they did with him (379.1 ypg, 26.5 ppg).

Keys for the Saints
• The rushing attack needs to get in gear. The Falcons’ undersized defense could be the perfect remedy for the Saints’ struggling ground game. The Saints have faced two of the best run defenses in the league in the first two weeks, but the Falcons have allowed a pair of long touchdowns on the ground already this season and rank 26th in the league in run defense.
• Continue to play strong on special teams. In what is expected to be a close game, special teams could be the difference. The Saints’ coverage units were a problem area last season and a concern during the preseason, but they’ve been stellar so far. The kicking game has always been solid with Garrett Hartley and Thomas Morstead. The Saints need to find a punt returner to replace Bush.

Keys for the Falcons
• Avoid turnovers. The Saints’ opportunistic defense has forced five turnovers already and ranked second in the NFL a year ago. Ryan threw an uncharacteristic three interceptions against the Saints in New Orleans last season. He can’t afford a repeat performance if he wants to pull the upset.
• Pressure Drew Brees with the front four. Both the Vikings and 49ers held the Saints’ high-powered offense in check by rushing only four defenders and dropping seven into coverage. If Kroy Biermann, John Abraham, Peria Jerry and Jonathan Babineaux can harass and hurry Brees without the aid of blitzes it’ll make it more difficult for the Pro Bowl quarterback to isolate defensive backs and linebackers in mismatches against his deep array of playmakers.

Bottom Line
The Falcons are catching the Saints at the right time. New Orleans is coming off a hard-fought victory against the 49ers on the West Coast and is working on short week. Atlanta is rested and relatively healthy. They should be emotionally charged after being swept by the Saints in two close games last season. This one looks like another tough one for the Saints, but the home field advantage will carry them again. Saints 28–20.

Week 3
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