The first Falcons game of the 2013 season is exactly 24 hours away, which means it's time to once again abandon your loved ones and worship at the glowing box of your choice.
It also means it's time to roll out one of our most popular features: The four critical matchups for the game ahead. We've had plenty of preview content already this week, including Nate Butler's great breakdown, but this is a tradition. We're wedded to tradition. By an Elvis impersonator in Vegas, we think. That weekend is hard to remember.
Let's take a look at four matchups you need to know about for Falcons-Saints, another chapter in one of the greatest rivalries in sports. It's gonna be a good one.
Rookies scares us because they're unknown. That's why I've gotten a handful of messages from Falcons fans suddenly nostalgic for Dunta Robinson, who couldn't cover a picnic basket if you spotted him a blanket.
Trufant is young, athletic and a quick learner, so the chances of him being better than Dunta early on are pretty high. Nonetheless, this is a brutal first matchup, with quality receivers and one of the best quarterbacks in the game. If you don't think Brees is going to target Trufant early and often, you're crazy. If you don't think he's going to have at least some success doing so, you're crazy optimistic.
The key for Trufant will be making Brees pay. That could come in the form of a turnover or just some nice coverage, but any way you slice it, he'll have to be able to stop Lance Moore or Marques Colston or Kenny Stills or the still-twitching corpse of Robert Meachem at some point.
If Brees can throw on Trufant all day long, the Falcons will be forced to offer a lot of safety help, and the Saints' offense is inevitably going to move a little more smoothly. A great game from Trufant could turn the tide of the game, and I don't feel like that's hyperbole.
Osi Umenyiora vs. Charles Brown
For the love of all that is holy, the Saints have a left tackle named Charlie Brown. That's almost too easy.
Brown was a second round pick in 2010, so he's got a pedigree. At 6'5" and 297 pounds, he's not a small dude. And with eight starts over three seasons, there's enough out there to know that he's a pretty solid tackle.
Still...this is the guy who will be protecting Drew Brees' blind side. Eight starts in three seasons. Listed at five pounds lighter than Sam Baker. Going against Osi Umenyiora, who despite the many knocks on him from Giants fans and pundits comes into this game with 75 career sacks. Okay then.
Look, Brown could do very well. The talent's certainly there. The Saints also rely heavily on the strength of their guards to keep Brees with a clean pocket. But with Osi and possibly Jonathan Massaquoi coming at him all day, Brown's going to have to be quite good to keep Brees from getting knocked down. Given how close these games historically are, a big sack or a forced errant throw could be a difference maker.
Kenny Vaccaro vs. Tony Gonzalez
The task of covering Tony Gonzalez is never an easy one, and the Saints certainly had a time of it last year. In 2012, Gonzo piled up 15 catches for 180 yards and three touchdown against the Saints, picking up multiple first downs as usual. Gonzo is Ryan's safety valve and those completions keep the offense moving.
So the Saints would ideally like to lock down Gonzalez and try to trust an underrated cornerback corps to slow down Roddy White and Julio Jones. The bulk of the time, they're likely to turn to rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro in that pursuit.
Vaccaro is a very good player already, but he's going to get schooled pretty quickly. Just like Lance Moore and Marques Colston will be difficult for Desmond Trufant because of their skills and their experience, Gonzalez will be a handful for a rookie safety. He's so good at getting open it's ridiculous.
I wouldn't be surprised if Gonzo has a great game against the Saints this time out, but Vaccaro is quite gifted. Keep an eye on this.
Sean Payton vs. Mike Smith
The battle of two good coaches, one of them returning from a suspension and the other one smarting from a heart-breaking NFC Championship loss. Expect plenty of glowering with a side of shouting.
What are your top matchups for Falcons-Saints?