Thursday Night Football is upon us, and with it comes the all-important home match-up against the New Orleans Saints. The Falcons, now sitting at 7-5, will need to go at least 3-1 over their remaining 4 to have a shot at a wild card berth. That means Thursday is essentially a must-win game for Atlanta, with the Week 16 contest in New Orleans looking like a very difficult challenge.
Thursday’s game presents an opportunity for the Falcons to keep pace in the NFC South and bring themselves within a game of the division crown. Let’s take a closer look at how Atlanta and New Orleans compare statistically.
|Points/game||22.8 (14th)||29.4 (3rd)|
|Total yards/game||365.2 (8th)||408.6 (2nd)|
|Yards per play||6.1 (4th)||6.4 (1st)|
|Passing yards/game||249.6 (11th)||266.0 (3rd)|
|Passing yards per attempt||7.9 (6th)||8.1 (3rd)|
|Passing TDs||17 (T-20th)||17 (T-20th)|
|Rushing yards/game||115.6 (11th)||142.6 (3rd)|
|Rushing yards per attempt||4.4 (T-8th)||5.0 (1st)|
|Rushing TDs||10 (T-11th)||19 (1st)|
|Third Down Efficiency||45% (3rd)||39% (15th)|
|Turnover Margin||-3 (T-20th)||3 (13th)|
Atlanta offensive statistics took a hit from that relatively poor outing against the Vikings, but the team remains a fringe top-10 offense by most measures. The Falcons are currently 14th in scoring, 8th in total yards, and 4th in yards per play. In the passing game, the team is 11th in yards, 6th in yards per attempt, and T-20th in TDs. On the ground, Atlanta is 11th in yards, T-8th in yards per carry, and T-11th in TDs. The Falcons are still one of the NFL’s best third down offenses, converting 45% of attempts (3rd). They’re still struggling with turnovers, however, and remain -3 (T-20th).
The Saints are one of the NFL’s premier offenses in 2017, particularly on the ground. New Orleans is currently 3rd in scoring, 2nd in total yards, and 1st in yards per play. Through the air, the team is 3rd in yards, 3rd in yards per attempt, and T-20th in passing TDs. The Saints’ rushing attack is 3rd in yards, 1st in yards per carry, and 1st in TDs. New Orleans is, strangely, merely average at converting third downs, (39%, 15th). They’ve been above average in turnover margin, at +3 (13th).
|Points/game||20.3 (13th)||20.2 (12th)|
|Total yards/game||321.0 (8th)||330.1 (12th)|
|Yards per play||5.0 (10th)||5.4 (19th)|
|Passing yards/game||207.8 (6th)||217.2 (11th)|
|Passing yards per attempt||6.5 (T-3rd)||7.1 (T-16th)|
|Passing TDs||15 (11th)||18 (T-14th)|
|Rushing yards/game||113.2 (18th)||112.8 (17th)|
|Rushing yards per attempt||4.3 (T-19th)||4.6 (29th)|
|Rushing TDs||8 (T-14th)||7 (T-7th)|
|Third Down Efficiency||40% (18th)||39% (15th)|
|Sacks||32 (T-10th)||33 (T-7th)|
The Falcons’ defensive statistics, however, received a boost from their surprisingly good performance against Minnesota. Atlanta is currently 13th in scoring, 8th in total yards, and 10th in yards per play. The team is very good defending the pass, as they’re 6th in yards, T-3rd in yards per attempt, and 11th in TDs. On the ground, the Falcons have struggled a bit: they’re 18th in yards, T-19th in yards per carry, and T-14th in TDs. Atlanta has been slightly below average on third down (40% conversion rate, 18th), but has been top-10 in sacks (32 on the year, T-10th).
New Orleans’ defense is a largely average unit in 2017, which is a big upgrade from where they were a year ago. The Saints are 12th in scoring, 12th in total yards, and 19th in yards per play. Through the air, the team is 11th in yards allowed, T-16th in yards per attempt, and T-14th in TDs. New Orleans has been weakest defending the run, as they’re 17th in yards, 29th in yards per attempt, and T-7th in TDs. The Saints have been about average on third down (39%, 15th) and have been good at generating sacks (33, T-7th).
This is shaping up to be an old-fashioned shootout, with both teams possessing strong offenses. Atlanta holds the edge on defense, where they’ve been very good against the pass but have struggled against the run. New Orleans, meanwhile, has been exposed at times—particularly on the ground—and could have a difficult time limiting the Falcons passing attack with impressive rookie CB Marshon Lattimore potentially sidelined.
The recipe for a win for Atlanta is simple: score early and often, and then bleed clock with your running game. Los Angeles executed this strategy to perfection in their recent victory over the Saints. The Falcons must force New Orleans to pass the ball—otherwise, the Saints will simply grind down Atlanta’s lackluster run defense over the course of the game.
Normally, forcing Brees to pass wouldn’t be an issue, but New Orleans hasn’t been quite as dominant there in 2017. Atlanta, with the potential return of Desmond Trufant and Brian Poole, will be much better off defending the Saints’ receiving weapons than facing 30+ rushing attempts. All that will be predicated on the offense, who struggled against the Vikings but had previously posted 30+ points in two straight games.
This is a close match-up with no clear advantage, particularly with the Falcons at home. It’s also essentially a must-win for the Falcons, so hopefully they’ll play like their playoff hopes depend on it—because they probably do.
Overall Advantage: Push
What are your thoughts on this match-up of hated rivals? Do you expect the Falcons to come away with the much-needed win on Thursday? What are some match-ups you’re looking forward to seeing?