There were, before this season began, three games that legitimately worried me. The first was the Vikings game at home, a game the Falcons ultimately lost. The second was the Panthers game on the road, which the Falcons ultimately lost. And the third was the Seahawks game on the road, which the Falcons ultimately won.
The Saints were not even on my radar. I thought Atlanta might lose their road game against New Orleans—that’s a possibility even in a down year—but I did not see the addition of Alvin Kamara and a few pieces on defense catapulting this team into contention. Now this game is a very difficult one, and we all have to navigate that reality.
As is typical on Saturdays, let’s break down one reason to be worried about this game, and one reason to feel confident.
One reason to be confident: The last game
This may seem odd, given that last game featured a weird blend of Saints injuries, Saints penalties, and shutdown Falcons defense, but the last game did a lot to convince me that Atlanta can win this one.
That’s because the Falcons showed an ability to slow down New Orleans and play an ugly, mean, close game, and those are the kinds of game Atlanta has won seemingly all year long. You cannot get into a shootout with these Saints, particularly with Kamara in the fold, and expect to outgun them. The 2016 Falcons with their impressive weaponry and even more impressive scheming might have done so, but this version of the team is best suited to slug it out. That’s a huge departure from what we’re used to, but it’s also the way the Saints have been beaten (or at least challenged) all year long.
One reason to worry: This game is in New Orleans
Consider this: The Falcons barely hung on against New Orleans last time, and the Saints are both healthier and more pissed off this time around. If these two teams were matching up again in Atlanta, I might not be as concerned, but there really is no good reason to think the Saints will come out flat in this one.
Playing in front of a home crowd, with Kamara healthy, and with a loss potentially knocking them out of first place in the NFC South, New Orleans has everything to play for and none of the issues that dogged them last game. There are many, many reasons to worry about this matchup, which is so important for the Falcons’ playoff and divisional hopes, but the fact that the Falcons are playing in such a hostile environment when they haven’t been playing lights out still tops my list.