The Falcons hold an advantage of 49-43 in the all-time series history. In games played in New Orleans, the Falcons narrowly lead the head-to-head matches 23-22. With Sean Payton on the sidelines, the Saints are 12-4 against the Falcons.
Atlanta at New Orleans
Kickoff: 8:25 PM ET (Thursday)
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Atlanta -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Matt Ryan and the Falcons' receivers versus the Saints' secondary
The Falcons have averaged 291.2 yards of receiving per game. They have scored six touchdowns through the air. Matt Ryan has thrown four passes to the wrong team so far this season.
The Saints have allowed an average of 281.6 yards per game along with nine touchdowns. They did not pick off a pass until last week at Philadelphia. However, both of those interceptions occurred in the end zone to halt Eagles' scoring threats.
The Saints' defensive numbers look as though they could possibly keep the game close. However, forcing a few turnovers would be essential to victory.
2. Saints' low offensive ceiling
Drew Brees and company have succeeded in scoring higher than in the teens only once in five games. That sole occasion was against Dallas, their only win. Even then, the Saints only managed to put 20 points on the board in regulation. They scored the winning touchdown on the second play from scrimmage in overtime.
Given this obvious trend, if the Saints cannot score in the twenties at a minimum, they have no realistic chance of winning. Can they do so against the Falcons? Considering that Atlanta's offense has averaged 28.6 points per game, the Saints will have to exceed their limits in order to win.
3. Short week hurts the Falcons?
Did the new coaching staff for Atlanta have enough time to formulate a game plan for an opponent that the group has not faced yet? Are three days between games enough for Julio Jones to rest his ailing hamstring and toe? His backup, Leonard Hankerson, is listed as questionable due to injured ribs. Jones, fellow wideout Roddy White and tight end Jacob Tamme all appear on the injury report as Probable, meaning they are expected to play, but it's clear Ryan's primary pass catchers aren't at 100 percent. Will this banged-up crew be able to exploit the weakest portion of a lackluster defense?
Viewers should expect the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to be packed and boisterous. Despite the season on the downslide toward another losing record, the Who Dat Nation would love to slap the first defeat on their hated rivals. Given the time of kickoff, the atmosphere will radiate even more animosity and confidence. The Saints have won 18 of their last 20 home games in prime time.
The contest will remain tight and tense deep into the fourth quarter. The offenses will trade equal scores throughout the night. Ryan will direct the Falcons to the game-clinching touchdown in the waning seconds of the game. Brees will not have enough time left on the clock to answer.
Prediction: Atlanta 34, New Orleans 27
— Written by John La Fleur, a contributor to AthlonSports.com, who focuses on the New Orleans Saints and Michigan State Spartans. He also frequently comments on other teams in the NFL and in NCAA football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur.