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What to know about the Falcons - Saints matchup in Week 10

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The basement dwellers of the NFC South must travel to meet the (gross) best team in the division.

NFL: NOV 22 Falcons at Saints Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Playing the hated Saints always sends a thrill through Falcons fans, but this year that thrill contains more dread than excitement, given how poorly Atlanta has played.

Can the Falcons hang on and pull off a surprise win? Let’s talk matchup.

2019 Ranks & Records

If you thought the last matchup against the Seahawks looked grim in this space, you will not love this.

Falcons - Saints Side-by-Side

Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Points Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Created Turnovers Allowed
Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Points Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Created Turnovers Allowed
Falcons 1-7 20 9 1 29 30 24 23 21 31 26
Saints 7-1 15 14 10 15 10 5 16 4 22 2

The Saints are basically what the Falcons wanted to be this year, though the pass/rush rankings may shift in the weeks ahead with Drew Brees back in the fold. New Orleans isn’t an absolute standout in any one regard, but they’ve played the run extremely well, they have a balanced, quality offense, and there are few exploitable weaknesses here. They’ve been a league average pass defense and they haven’t created many turnovers, but otherwise you’d be hard-pressed to find something they’re not doing well. I hate it.

The Falcons, meanwhile, have been terrible. Seattle’s quiet, bored second half against Atlanta helped improve their defensive numbers, but we’re about to find out if this team actually has better performances in them because New Orleans is not about to go easy on their fallen rivals for even a nanosecond. The Falcons continue to put up a ton of yards through the air but are failing to score at the level they should be, they can’t run at all, and their defense has both failed to get turnovers and failed to get much in the way of stops. They’re just bad this year, and if a bye week can fix what ails them I’ll be astonished.

On paper, then, this is a lousy matchup. Consider that it’s a road game for Atlanta and things look even worse.

How the Saints have changed

The team continued to shore up their defense, capping off a multi-year rebuild on that side of the ball that has borne real fruit. Rookie safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson has been useful, free agent addition Malcom Brown has helped, and everything has really gelled for this team. The pick of Marcus Davenport has not been, to my eternal chagrin, a disaster, and one of the most talented defensive lines in the league is masking any weaknesses at linbacker and in the back end.

The Saints also turned over their backup running back position, switching out the still-terrific Mark Ingram for Latavius Murray, who has been fine filling in. They also added Jared Cook, who was coming off a huge year with the Raiders but has been a relative non-factor for a passing game still missing a complementary option for Michael Thomas. Thomas, also to my chagrin, continues to be an effective target vacuum in this offense.

Are the Saints a little too reliant on Thomas and Kamara? Sure. Does it really matter when they have one of the league’s best backup quarterbacks, a strong offensive line, and a good defense? It hasn’t yet.

What should you know about this game?

It’s set up to be brutal. Every fiber of my being yearns for the Falcons to beat the Saints on the road because of how humiliating it would be for a very good New Orleans team, but there’s no reasonable reason to think it’ll happen.

The Saints have a real hatred for the Falcons and the feeling appears to be mutual. Roddy White isn’t around to stoke the fires on Atlanta’s end, but Cam Jordan takes a particular joy in taunting this team and Sean Payton is still Sean Payton, so I wouldn’t expect an early lead and then cruise control. If the Falcons let this get out of hand, it’s going to get really out of hand.

The subplot here if that happens concerns Dan Quinn’s status. He stayed through the bye and got to shuffle his coaching staff again, but more than one observer has suggested that he could be out with the next bad loss. If the Falcons get humiliated by the Saints, does he return? Hopefully that’s a question we don’t have to answer this week.

The hopeful notes? The Saints have been cruising and Atlanta is so bad they might look past them, and divisional games between these two teams in particular tend to be closer than they deserve to be. There’s also the fact that Julio Jones gets another crack at Marshon Lattimore, who has not been stellar this year.

Otherwise, you’re just hoping (depending on which side of the tank you’re on) that this is a surprising win that we can sup on for weeks, or a close game that won’t be the latest humiliation for a team that has suffered a lot of them.