The New Orleans Saints are set to take on the Atlanta Falcons in an NFC South matchup that has surprisingly little divisional relevance. That's due to the wide disparity in record between the two teams. New Orleans is 8-2, with losses to the New England Patriots and New York Jets, while the Falcons are 2-8, well out of the playoff race.
Atlanta has lost to some poor teams, including the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Arizona Cardinals. It's been a rough season in many ways, but all that matters at the end of the day is the fact that they aren't winning. The Falcons have lost four consecutive games heading into this matchup, and already lost to the Saints in the Superdome in Week 1.
Let's take a closer look at both teams, starting with the home team:
Meet the Falcons
The Falcons were in a bad way even before they sustained some serious injuries. Wide receiver Roddy White and wide receiver Julio Jones have both missed significant time, with the latter out for the year. Still, Matt Ryan has led the Falcons to the No. 6 pass offense in the NFL. When they stay in games, it's solely due to said pass offense, given how ineffective the rushing attack has been.
Atlanta rushes for just 73.1 yards per game on average, thanks to injures to Steven Jackson early and him being unable to find a rhythm since returning from said injuries. On the defensive side of the ball, there's not much to offer, as the Falcons allow 132.7 rushing yards per game and have the No. 22 pass defense.
In other words, the passing game will have to get it done, which is going to be a tall order against the Saints' defense.
Meet the Saints
The Saints just scored their most impressive win of the season in Week 11, besting the San Francisco 49ers, 23-20. That game was a hard-fought defensive battle, and the 49ers were one of the few teams to even partially contain quarterback Drew Brees. New Orleans has the No. 2 passing attack in the NFL, throwing for 321.9 yards per game on average.
They'll be looking to do more of the same when they take on the Falcons, though that poor run defense is a solid opportunity to give Mark Ingram more carries, as the Saints surely want to do. Ingram broke out in Week 10, putting up 145 yards on 14 carries against the Dallas Cowboys, but the 49ers presented a stiff test. The Falcons are a much easier target in that regard.
Local Takes: Falcons
Jeanna Thomas of The Falcoholic asks whether or not the Falcons' struggles can be blamed on quarterback Matt Ryan:
Matt Ryan has been exceptional throughout much of his time in Atlanta. His last four games, however, have been among the worst in his career. Ryan had three interceptions on the season going into the matchup against the Cardinals in Arizona, and since that time he has thrown nine interceptions total against Arizona, Carolina and Tampa Bay.
Matt Ryan, in the grand scheme, is an excellent quarterback. Over the last four games in particular, however, Ryan is part of the problem. Ryan's struggles aren't occurring in a vacuum. Poor performances along the offensive line have dramatically impacted Ryan's game, forcing him to develop a quicker release. Poor pass protection has also limited the vertical passing game. Ryan does not have enough time in the pocket for his receivers to run deep routes.
Local Takes: Saints
J.R. Ella of Canal Street Chronicles notes that the Saints have a strong defense for the first time in a long time, which will certainly be an issue for the hobbled Falcons:
Whatever the reason for their incredulity, 10 games into the season, many Saints fans are still looking for someone to pinch them when they read the National Football League defensive rankings.
In case you were wondering about said rankings, here is how they read: New Orleans is 4th in the NFL in total defense, allowing 305.4 yards per game. They are the 3rd passing defense with 191.4 yards allowed per game and 5th in the league in points allowed with 18.3 per contest. In what is considered their defensive weakest point, the Saints are a respectable 17th in the league, allowing 114 rushing yards per game.
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Antone Smith Surges the Atlanta Falcons to the 31st Rushing Offense http://t.co/MVPUHfwk9Y— The Falcoholic (@TheFalcoholic) November 20, 2013
Sean Payton is 11-2 vs. the @Atlanta_Falcons— Canal St. Chronicles (@SaintsCSC) November 20, 2013
Unsurprisingly, all six of SB Nation's experts are picking the Saints to win this one. Those experts include Ryan Van Bibber, Joel Thorman, Jason Chilton, Stephen White, David Fucillo and Matt Ufford.
Despite playing on the road, the Saints opened as 6-point favorites for the game. Since beating the 49ers, the Saints are even more significant favorites, with one book having them favored by as much as 10.5 points, according to OddsShark.