Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints
Kickoff: 1:00 p.m. ET
Is it just me or is the Saints-Falcons rivalry not appreciated as much as it should be?
Put it right up there with Bears-Packers, Steelers-Ravens, and Chiefs-Raiders (Note: I am a biased Saints fan). Seemingly every time these two eternal enemies get together, the result is typically some sort of exciting, tight game.
Their inaugural meeting of 2020 will have a much different flavor, however. For the first time in 11 years, we are not getting one of those classic Drew Brees vs. Matt Ryan duels (they’ve comprised the NFL’s most frequent head-to-head matchups between quarterbacks in history with 23).
Nope, Brees is now on injured reserve, and for the second year in a row — and only the second time during his lengthy tenure donning the fleur-de-lis — New Orleans will be without its leader for a few weeks.
But as proven last year, the Saints can do more than just survive this unfortunate predicament. They can thrive, even win, as they did in all five games sans Brees a season ago. True, Teddy Bridgewater served as QB then — and we sorta, maybe don’t know exactly what’s at QB today.
That’s because after an Adam Schefter report stating do-everything swiss-army knife Taysom Hill would receive first crack at the interim starting gig over Jameis Winston — the NFL’s passing yards leader last year — Sean Payton walked it back, saying he had not committed to anyone.
Even so, I still trust (the future Hall-of-Famer) Payton to keep this explosive offense firing on all cylinders. If Hill in fact receives the start, maybe this is the 30-year-old’s long-awaited breakout. The moments have been aplenty from Hill while being dispatched as a gadget player. Payton will know how to guide him.
If it’s not Hill, then I’d be perfectly happy with Winston, too. The former Tampa Bay Buc being out there was the expected call. And even if he doesn’t start, I definitely expect Winston to be involved in some fashion. It would’ve been nice to see him given a full workload, though. For his career, Winston’s highest passer rating opposite anyone whom he’s faced more than once has been against Atlanta (109.1!), so maybe that comes into play.
Besides, the Falcons’ pass defense has probably performed worse than anyone in all of football (outside of the Seahawks). They’re one of only two teams who have allowed more than 300 passing yards each week and no one’s yielded more touchdowns through the air than Atlanta.
In other words, a favorable matchup to help sustain or finish close to their tasty 30.1 points-per-game average.
Meanwhile, Matt Ryan figures to do his part when taking part in the legendary rivalry. He’s posted a desirable 97.7 passer rating in 23 career dates against New Orleans while notching 43 touchdowns compared to 16 picks.
Most important is what he’s doing right now and it’s hard not to consider the “What If?” about the Falcons making a surge after their 0-5 start. They’ve since won three of four (should be a four-game win streak), with Matty Ice topping 280 yards in all four of those outings. He’s second in yards per game, by the way.
Coming out of a bye week, it’s usually fair to wonder if a quarterback is fazed at all. Not with the veteran Ryan, who tends to pick up where he left off. The future Hall-of-Famer (yes he is) has registered a 99.4 passer rating in his 12 career post-bye-week assignments, and in the process, also etched a 27-11 TD/INT ratio as well.
Ryan also enters the Superdome with a full complement of weapons, getting Calvin Ridley back to reactivate the most dangerous pair of top wideouts in the NFL.
Ever since Ryan was drafted by Atlanta, these Saints-Falcons matchups have averaged 50.25 points scored. Despite the absence of Brees, there could be the makings of another classic between the two NFC South residents.
The Bet: OVER 49 (-110)
The Record: 6-3-1, +2.7 units
Last Week: Bengals-Steelers Under 46 (Push)
*Each bet graded as if it were to win 1 unit