Hate week—part 1—is here! Week 3 brings to us a very important game against our archrival—the New Orleans Saints (1-1). The Falcons (1-1) have played two tough games back-to-back, with a close loss against the Eagles and a convincing if uncomfortable win against the Panthers. The Falcons are trying to find their footing after a rash of injuries on both sides of the ball. New Orleans, meanwhile, is reeling off a big loss to the Bucs in Week 1 and a narrow victory over the Browns at home in Week 2.
This game could have big implications for both teams in their race for the division title. A Falcons win would put Atlanta at 2-0 in the division and drop New Orleans to 0-2, with both of those losses being home games. Let’s take a closer look at how these two teams match-up on offense and defense heading into Week 3.
|Points/game||21.5 (20th)||30.5 (6th)|
|Total yards/game||370.5 (15th)||375.0 (14th)|
|Yards per play||5.9 (10th)||6.2 (6th)|
|Passing yards/game||248.5 (16th)||322.5 (4th)|
|Passing yards per attempt||7.4 (T-14th)||8.5 (6th)|
|Passing TDs||2 (T-22nd)||5 (T-6th)|
|Rushing yards/game||122.0 (8th)||52.5 (32nd)|
|Rushing yards per attempt||4.9 (T-5th)||2.9 (31st)|
|Rushing TDs||3 (T-4th)||2 (T-7th)|
|Third Down Efficiency||38% (T-15th)||33% (T-23rd)|
|Turnover Margin||1 (12th)||-3 (29th)|
For the Falcons, it’s been a tale of two games in 2018. Against Philadelphia, the offense came out flat—against Carolina, the offense put on a show. The real team is probably somewhere in the middle. For now, the Falcons are 20th in scoring, 15th total yardage, and 10th in yards per play. Atlanta is about league-average in the passing game, and are 16th in yards, T-14th in yards per attempt, and T-22nd in passing TDs. On the ground, the Falcons have been quite good: 8th in yards, T-5th in yards per carry, and T-4th in rushing TDs. They’re about average on third down, converting 38% of their attempts (T-15th), and have been above-average in turnover margin (+1, 12th).
The Saints got off to an explosive start in Week 1 against the Bucs—and still ended up losing that game—but struggled in Week 2 against the Browns’ (possibly good?) defense. New Orleans is 6th in scoring, 14th in total yards, and 6th in yards per play. They’re one of the NFL’s top passing offenses through two weeks: 4th in yards, 6th in yards per attempt, and T-6th in passing TDs. Somewhat surprisingly, the Saints have struggled mightily on the ground: they’re currently last in the league in rushing yards (only 52.5/game), 31st in yards per carry (an abysmal 2.9), and T-7th in rushing TDs. New Orleans has also been below average on third down (T-23rd) and have suffered from a bad turnover margin (-3, 29th).
|Points/game||21.0 (T-12th)||33.0 (30th)|
|Total yards/game||335.5 (11th)||428.0 (29th)|
|Yards per play||5.2 (9th)||7.0 (32nd)|
|Passing yards/game||218.5 (10th)||325.5 (29th)|
|Passing yards per attempt||5.8 (T-3rd)||11.4 (32nd)|
|Passing TDs||3 (T-11th)||5 (T-23rd)|
|Rushing yards/game||117.0 (24th)||102.5 (17th)|
|Rushing yards per attempt||5.2 (T-29th)||3.4 (T-4th)|
|Rushing TDs||2 (T-20th)||2 (T-20th)|
|Third Down Efficiency||48% (T-28th)||48% (T-28th)|
|Sacks||4 (T-18th)||3 (T-23rd)|
Nobody expects the Falcons defense to live up to expectations in 2018 due to the loss of Deion Jones and Keanu Neal, but the unit has remained relatively close to 2017 through two weeks. Atlanta is currently T-12th in scoring defense, 11th in total yards allowed, and 9th in yards per play. Against the pass, the Falcons are 10th in yards, T-3rd in yards per attempt, and T-11th in passing TDs. On the ground, Atlanta has struggled, as they’re 24th in yards, T-29th in yards per carry, and T-20th in rushing TDs. The Falcons have been awful on third down thus far, allowing a whopping 48% of attempts to be converted (T-28th). They’re slightly below-average in generating sacks, with 4 through two games (T-18th).
While the Falcons have injuries to blame for any defensive regression, the Saints are simply playing very poorly. Gone is the league-average or better unit from 2017—at least, that’s how it appears through the first two games. New Orleans is 30th in scoring defense (allowing 33.0 points/game), 29th in total yards allowed, and last in the league in yards per play. The Saints are downright awful against the pass: 29th in yards, 32nd in yards per attempt (a comical 11.4 YPA), and T-23rd in passing TDs. Against the run, New Orleans has fared better: 17th in yards, T-4th in yards per carry, and T-20th in rushing TDs. The Saints have also been quite bad on third down, allowing 48% of attempts to be converted (T-28th). The pass rush has also been relatively quiet, as New Orleans has 3 sacks through two games (T-23rd).
It’s worth pointing out that these stats—based on only two games worth of data—will be extremely volatile for about the first 6 weeks of the season. Each game has a huge impact on the numbers, and you’ll see big shifts often. For instance, the #1 scoring offense in the league right now is Kansas City, with 40.0 points/game. There are currently five teams averaging more than 33.0 points/game. The 2016 Falcons offense—a historically good unit—averaged about 33.0 points/game through an entire season. Expect things to even out quite a bit over the coming weeks.
Now, onto the match-up at hand. It’s hard to say which versions of these two teams are the “real” ones. We have the Week 1 Falcons—who looked out of sorts on offense but very good on defense—and the Week 2 Falcons, who looked like a top-tier offense but struggled on defense. Ditto the Saints, who put up 40 points in a loss to Tampa Bay and then struggled to score more than 20 against the Browns.
I think it’s safe to assume that both of these teams can score points. The Falcons are probably closer to that Week 2 team in most respects. For the Saints, it’s all about whether or not that defense can stabilize. Depending on Drew Brees and Co. to score 33+ points per game to win is a recipe for another 7-9 season. For the Falcons, the question is whether or not the offense can consistently produce—and whether Damontae Kazee and some combination of Duke Riley and Foye Oluokun can keep the defense afloat until Deion Jones returns.
Everything points to a shootout in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. However, the Falcons’ defense—even in its injury-riddled state—has been playing better than the Saints’ defense. With the Falcons at home and the offenses close enough in talent and ability, I think Atlanta has the advantage on Sunday.
Overall Advantage: Falcons
What are your thoughts on the Falcons vs. Saints match-up? Any particular position groups that you think Atlanta should target on Sunday? Any concerns about the Falcons’ defense against the weapons of New Orleans?