Posted on December 21, 2017, by Travis Pulver
The Atlanta Falcons have not looked like the same team that made it to the Super Bowl last year. But the Super Bowl loser rarely (if ever) does as well the season after losing the big game. To be fair, the road is a lot tougher this go-around. The Carolina Panthers are playing well as are the New Orleans Saints—and there’s that pesky Super Bowl-hangover they have to get over.
Despite the hangover and tougher competition, they are still in pretty good shape heading into the final two weeks of the season. They are currently the No. 6 seed in the NFC. So, if they win out, they are in the playoffs. With a little help from the right teams, they could even win the division.
However, winning out is going to be easier said than done. This week they face the New Orleans Saints, and they close the season against the Carolina Panthers. Each game was decided by just a field goal with the Falcons losing to the Panthers, 20-17, and beating the Saints by the same score.
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Can they beat the Saints again? A couple of weeks ago they did it despite Matt Ryan throwing three interceptions. But, the Saints were without superstar rookie running back Alvin Kamara. He took a shot to the head early in the game and was out with a concussion.
The Saints backfield will be entering the game healthy and will likely look to keep their team on top of the division. Falcons running back Tevin Coleman missed a game with a concussion, but has cleared protocol and is expected to play.
Both teams have something to play for. But when it comes down to it, whoever wants it more will likely come out ahead. So—who’s going to win?
The New Orleans Saints have proven at times that they can still throw the ball all over the field when they want to. But the harsh reality for those that loved the aerial assault is that the Saints are now a running team. Heading into Week 16 they have the No. 5 rushing attack in the league (135.1 yards/game).
When they played the Falcons a couple of weeks ago, and Kamara was injured early, they only gained 50 yards on the ground. An argument could easily be made that had they been able to run the ball that week, things could have been different. Maybe they would have been able to take advantage of the three picks they got off of Matt Ryan.
Who knows, maybe the offense would have been more dynamic, and the Falcons would not have been able to defend against it as well as they did.
However, the Falcons were not able to get in position for Matt Bryant to kick a 52-yard game winning field goal because of the lack of a running game. The run game had nothing to do with Drew Brees throwing an interception with the ball in easy field goal range and 1:25 left to play.
Then again, if the run game had been working, maybe they would have tried a couple runs at that point rather than risk an interception.
But what we do know is that the effectiveness of the Saints run game will dictate how this game plays out. If the Saints can run, it will open up the passing game for the Drew Brees. If that happens, the Saints will score much more than the 17 they scored against Atlanta last time.
Of course, how well Matt Ryan runs his offense will dictate how many opportunities the Saints have. But the Atlanta is not the productive unit it was last year. Steve Sarkisian is trying to make the Falcons a little more balanced. While he does have a pair of good running backs, he’s not utilizing his best players—Julio Jones and Matt Ryan.
With Kamara and Ingram running the ball, expect the Saints to control this game from start to finish. The game is in New Orleans where the Saints are 6-1 this season. When this game is over, they’ll be 7-1 (and will easily cover the 5.5 point spread).