Posted on December 5, 2017, by Travis Pulver
At this point in the season, things start to get a lot more interesting in the NFL. The better teams have begun to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. It starts to become clear who is going to make the playoffs and who has a shot at making it to the Super Bowl.
With a record of 9-3, the New Orleans Saints are on track to win their division and host a wild-card game. Their chances of getting a first-round bye are slim, but if they lose again, those chances become non-existent.
The Atlanta Falcons, on the other hand, are scrambling to get a seat at the table. With Sunday’s loss to the Vikings, they fell to 7-5 and a game behind the Carolina Panthers. The division crown is out of reach, but they still have a shot at the wild card.
They just need to keep winning, hope someone can beat the Panthers, and then they have to beat them in the regular season finale. But if they lose to the New Orleans Saints Thursday night, they are going to need a lot more help in the final month of the season.
So—who’s going to win?
The vastly improved Saints defense will get more attention from the press in advance of this game and with good reason. For years, the Saints have had one of the worst defenses in the NFL. But this year, they aren’t half-bad. Depending on the game you watch, they’ve even been good.
So far, this season, they are 13th in total yards allowed (17th against the rush and 11th against the pass). When it comes to what matters most, points allowed, they rank 12th (20.3/game). For most teams, we’d look at those rankings and say, “Eh—not bad.”
But when it comes to a team with such notoriously bad defense, we are impressed.
They will have their hands full against an Atlanta team that is not as good as last year’s group, but still one of the better offenses in the NFL (seventh in total yards). But while the offense is still generating yards, they aren’t scoring quite like they did last season (22.8 points/game relative to 33.8 last season).
Many like to blame new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian for the difference. But last year, the offense played more consistent then they have this season. If they do get off to a good start, it is not unusual to see slip away. Sometimes they can pick it back up in the fourth quarter and record a win.
Sometimes they don’t.
If the Falcons are going to have a chance, they have to do as the Rams did against the Saints a few weeks ago. The offense has to get on track early and put up points. But once they start, they can’t stop. If they do, the Saints offense is good enough to capitalize on any and every opportunity they get.
Drew Brees proved that a few weeks ago in the epic comeback against the Redskins.
The Falcons defense is good enough to make the Saints work for it. But they’d have a better chance if the Saints were still primarily a passing team—which they aren’t. Atlanta is not good against the run (18th), and Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara will do their best to make that apparent to anyone watching.
Atlanta will need the Saints to make a few mistakes if they are to win. But the Saints don’t make many. Brees has only thrown five interceptions this season. He hasn’t thrown one since the Washington game which is his only one over the last six.
For some strange reason, the Saints are only favored by one point. Take New Orleans and the point.