Falcons vs. Saints 2013 game preview: High-powered offenses clash in NFC South showdown

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Sean Payton returns to the sideline for the Saints after his 2012 suspension, but will the Falcons have an unpleasant welcoming for him?

The Atlanta Falcons lost just three regular season games in 2012 during a season that ended with a loss in the NFC Championship. One of those losses came against the New Orleans Saints, when the two teams met in a Week 10 game played at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

If the Falcons are able to repeat as divisional champs in 2013, it would be the first time in the history of the NFC South that a team was able to earn consecutive division titles. They could start that pursuit with a defeat of the Saints, a team that has defeated them in 11 of the last 14 meetings between the two division rivals.

Meet the Saints

With Sean Payton suspended for the entire season in 2012, the Saints struggled and finished on the outside of the postseason after three consecutive trips in the years prior. While many will point to the suspension of Payton, the offense was not the issue for the Saints that scored the third-most points in the NFL. Instead it was a defense that set the NFL record for yards allowed in a season.

Adding Kenny Vaccaro, Victor Butler, Chris Carr and John Jenkins to the fold, the Saints have made attempts to fix the glaring holes that made for a horrible group in 2012. With 34-year-old Drew Brees, the Saints are running out of time to make moves at the postseason with him at the helm, though.

Meet the Falcons

The Falcons also struggled on defense in 2012, finishing in the bottom 10 of the NFL in yards allowed. The team made up for it though, with plenty of turnovers and a red zone defense that allowed the defense to finish in the top five in fewest points allowed.

With the addition of cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, the Falcons will look to fill the holes on the defense and continue their push toward a Super Bowl. Led by a high-flying offense that features Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Roddy White, the Falcons promise to be a high-scoring offense once again.

Local Takes: Saints

Ryan Edwards at Canal St. Chronicle believes the key to the Saints winning is stopping Steven Jackson and the ground attack, and provides some pretty convincing stats to back it up.

Since 2006, the Saints are an impressive 11-3 against our hated rival (6-1 at home, 5-2 on the road). In all three losses, the Falcons rushed for over 100 yards and/or outrushed the Saints. When the Falcons rush for over 100 yards, the Saints are 4-3. When the Saints hold the Falcons to under 100 yards rushing, the Saints are 7-0. I like our odds if we stop Steven Jackson on Sunday. Another thing to mention is that the Saints are 7-0 when they outrush the Falcons.

Local Takes: Falcons

The key for the Falcons, in the opinion of Nate Butler Jr. of The Falcoholic, is red zone efficiency:

Atlanta can't afford to have long drives come to an end with a field goal or no points at all especially on the road against the Saints. In last season's 31-27 loss in New Orleans, the Falcons settled for two field goals and missed on a fourth and goal conversion from New Orleans 1-yard line. The Falcons finished 3-6 that day when they entered the red-zone. With the addition of Steven Jackson, the Falcons look to open their playbook this season and assure that they are scoring touchdowns when Atlanta is driving into the red-zone.

Follow the Fun

Be sure to check out SB Nation's team blogs, Canal St. Chronicles and The Falcoholic, for more analysis and highlights from the game.

Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:

@CSCtweet

@TheFalcoholic

@MikeTriplett - Saints beat reporter

@AJCFalcons - Falcons beat reporter

Prediction

Pete Prisco at CBS Sports is naturally predicting this as a high-scoring affair, and thinks the Falcons squeak out a tight one, 33-31.

This should be an offensive shootout. Both teams will score a ton this season, and both teams have question marks on offense. Sean Payton is back for the Saints, which will help. I think the Falcons get off to the fast start and the addition of Steven Jackson comes into play here in the passing game. Enjoy this one. It will be an offensive explosion.

Odds

Linemakers are feeling the Saints home-field advantage, and have them as three-point favorites, according to Oddsshark.

Next Week

The Saints head to Tampa Bay to take on the Buccaneers next Sunday, while the Falcons host the St. Louis Rams in the Georgia Dome.

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