An NFC South showdown is on the docket for Week 13 of the NFL season, as the New Orleans Saints (9-2) visit the Atlanta Falcons (4-7). The Saints are one of the NFL's hottest teams, winning their eighth consecutive game last Sunday against the quarterback-less Broncos, while the Falcons built some momentum too by pulverizing the playoff-hopeful Raiders to win their third game in four weeks.
Here is a preview of Sunday's game between the Saints and Falcons, complete with a free pick. New Orleans is an early 3.5-point favorite to open up the week.
When these teams met two weeks ago in New Orleans, Saints quarterback Taysom Hill made his first pro start under center. While there were some bumps, the former BYU Cougar ran for two touchdowns in New Orleans' 24-9 victory. Running back Alvin Kamara also found the end zone for the Saints, who led just 10-9 at the half.
Meanwhile, Atlanta was held to less than 250 total yards of offense, 232 of which were passing yards from QB Matt Ryan. They also went 2-for-14 on third down and mustered up a total of three field goals for the game.
It may not feel like it, but things haven't been completely easy for the Big Easy this year. Following a 1-2 start, the Saints fought for four wins in a row, three of them etched out by just three points. But a blowout win against the division-rival Buccaneers on Sunday night football has propelled them to four straight double-digit margin victories.
New Orleans has seemingly not missed a beat without Drew Brees, who suffered fractured ribs and a collapsed lung Week 10 versus the 49ers. And with just one team above .500 remaining on the schedule, the one-seed in the NFC looks well within reach.
Starting on the offensive side of the football, both Brees and Hill have run an offense that is averaging 29.6 points per game, fifth in the NFL. They rank 5th in the league with 377 yards per game, aided by nearly 135 rushing yards but hampered by just 231 average passing yards, which sits just 20th. But New Orleans continues to move the ball down the field, evident by the fifth-highest third-down percentage in the league at 47 percent.
Fans may still think offense when it comes to the Saints, but their defense has been elite in 2020. No team in football is allowing fewer yards per game than New Orleans' 304. Their run defense is second only to Tampa Bay with just under 77 yards allowed per game, while their pass defense is also in the Top Five. The lack of yards allowed helps with points allowed, as the Saints are also fifth in the league with just 20.5 points allowed. Also, only five teams have more than New Orleans' 33 team sacks, while also having the third-most team interceptions with 13.
You couldn't have asked for a worse start for the Falcons in 2020. Not only did they start the year 0-5, but two of those early losses saw Atlanta blow massive, double-digit leads to lose in heart-breaking fashion. Additionally, head coach Dan Quinn was fired following the team's fifth loss in a row and replaced by interim head coach Raheem Morris. Fortunately, Morris has helped turned things around for the Falcons, who have won four of their last six contests, including a 43-6 blowout of Las Vegas in Week 12. While the playoffs may be a tad out of reach at this point, the Falcons can still play competitively and factor in as a possible spoiler to close out the year.
For the year, Atlanta is averaging just shy of 27 points per game, good for 11th in the NFL. Their total yardage is 10th with an average of 391 yards per game, but there is a sizable difference between their fifth-ranked passing game that averages over 271 yards per game and their 23rd-ranked running game that is sitting at 103.5 yards. Their 41.3 percent success rate on third downs is good for 17th in football.
Defensively, you'll find a mixed bag for Atlanta. On one hand, they have been excellent in a couple of areas, ranking sixth with 100 rushing yards allowed per game and an opponent average of 37 percent on third downs. On the other, they still give up the fifth-most yards per game at 407, thanks to the league's second-worst pass defense that gives up over 291 yards through the air. The mix of good and bad puts the Falcons somewhere in the middle with 25.5 points allowed per game, plus 22 sacks and eight interceptions as a team.
Starting with the Saints, they are just 6-5 against the spread this year despite a 9-2 overall record, but are 4-1 ATS in their last five showings. New Orleans has dominated Atlanta, going 5-1 both straight up and ATS in their last six games versus them. The Saints are also 11-1 straight up in their previous 12 road games dating back to last season.
As for the Falcons, their 5-6 record ATS is an improvement over their 4-7 overall record, thanks to covers in four of their last six contests. But in addition to their woes against the Saints mentioned earlier, Atlanta is just 4-9 straight up in their previous 13 home games going back to 2019. However, they are also 13-7 straight up in their last 20 games versus a divisional opponent.
This game will likely have more points and more competition than the bout we saw a couple of weeks ago. Atlanta is coming off a dominant, 37-point victory, while New Orleans also won by 28 and is starting to figure things out more with Hill.
Ultimately, I think the X-factor will be the Saints' defense, which held the Falcons to zero touchdowns and nine total points in their last meeting. Look for the Saints D to continue to flourish and for New Orleans to get their ninth win in a row in a fairly-comfortable fashion.
Pick: New Orleans Saints (-3.5)