Well, we’ve finally arrived: it’s the final game of the season, the clash between the Atlanta Falcons (10-5) and the New Orleans Saints (7-8) in the Georgia Dome.
These two teams have clearly diverged since earlier in the season. The last time they met, Atlanta handed the Saints a decisive loss on Monday Night Football. Since then, the Falcons have ridden their early season success to an NFC South crown, while the Saints have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.
Even though the Falcons have locked up a playoff spot and the division crown, they will likely still need a win on Sunday to hold on to the #2 seed. A first round bye would be ideal for Atlanta, as several players are still recovering from injury.
Let’s see how the offense and defense of these two arch-rivals match-up statistically.
Total Points/game: Falcons 33.5 (1st), Saints 29.1 (2nd)
Total Yards/game: Falcons 412.5 (2nd), Saints 422.9 (1st)
Passing Yards/game: Falcons 293.5 (3rd), Saints 315.5 (1st)
Passing TDs: Falcons 34 (3rd), Saints 36 (T-1st)
Rushing Yards/game: Falcons 119.1 (7th), Saints 107.3 (18th)
Rushing TDs: Falcons 19 (T-3rd), Saints 15 (T-8th)
Third Down Efficiency: Falcons 41% (13th), Saints 49% (1st)
Turnover Margin: Falcons +10 (T-3rd), Saints -2 (22nd)
Overall, the Falcons are still clearly the top offense in the league. Atlanta remains the #1 scoring offense, having actually raised their average points per game on the back of three consecutive blowouts. They’re 2nd in total yards, 3rd in passing yards, 7th in rushing yards, and 3rd in both passing and rushing TDs. Atlanta has also been excellent at protecting the football and generating turnovers, with a +10 TO margin that ranks T-3rd in the NFL. They’re also slightly above average on third down, converting 41% of their attempts (13th).
If the Falcons are the best offense, the Saints are the second-best. They’re 2nd in points (though they’re 4.4 PPG behind the Falcons still), 1st in total yards, 1st in passing, and 1st in third down efficiency (49%). However, the Saints lag behind in several key areas, namely rushing yards (18th) and rushing TDs (T-8th). They’ve also been turnover prone on offense, with a -2 TO margin that ranks 22nd in the league. They’re a very good offense, but aren’t quite as balanced as Atlanta.
Total Points/game: Falcons 24.9 (25th), Saints 27.7 (30th)
Total Yards/game: Falcons 364.4 (23rd), Saints 369.4 (25th)
Passing Yards/game: Falcons 261.7 (26th), Saints 270.5 (30th)
Passing TDs: Falcons 29 (T-26th), Saints 23 (T-16th)
Rushing Yards/game: Falcons 102.7 (16th), Saints 98.9 (12th)
Rushing TDs: Falcons 13 (18th), Saints 18 (T-28th)
Third Down Efficiency: Falcons 42% (25th), Saints 43% (27th)
Sacks: Falcons 32 (17th), Saints 29 (T-25th)
Atlanta’s defense has continued to improve, at least statistically so, over the last month of the season. They’re now 25th in points, 23rd in total yards, and 26th in passing yards—a far cry from the league-worst marks that they possessed earlier in the year. The defense has also been solid against the run (16th in yards, 18th in TDs) and at generating sacks (32 on the year, 17th). They’re, however, still fairly bad at stopping teams on third down, allowing 42% of attempts (25th).
The Saints are still largely one of the worst defenses in the league. They’re 30th in points, 25th in total yards, and 30th in passing yards. New Orleans also struggles on third downs (27th), and at generating sacks (T-25th). While they are solid against the run in terms of yardage (12th), they have allowed 18 rushing TDs this season (T-28th). They’re a pretty bad defense on the whole, though they’ve been decent at times in recent weeks.
The Falcons and Saints are fairly closely matched on offense—though the Falcons have the clear edge in scoring and rushing—but the Falcons also feature a better, more opportunistic defense. Atlanta is also playing at home in the last regular season game in the Georgia Dome, where fans should be very fired up.
These division rivalry games, particularly between these two teams, are almost always close, hard-fought contests. I expect this game to be no different, although the Falcons have proven that they are capable of blowing teams out if their opponent stumbles early on. New Orleans’ best hope is to make the game a shootout, and hope that they can make the needed plays at the end of the game. Atlanta will try to fluster Brees and run the ball, if possible, to keep the Saints offense off the field.
This should be a good, close game with Atlanta seeking a first-round bye and the Saints looking to spoil their fun. Hopefully, the Falcons can come out ahead and Matt Ryan can add one final statement game to his impressive MVP resume.
What do you think about this match-up? Are you confident in the Falcons chances, or are you nervous? Is the defense “coming together”?