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Falcons defense vs. Saints offense: Who wins this matchup?

With Drew Brees out, can Atlanta even up the odds?

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

If there’s one constant in the universe, it’s that rivalry games never go according to the script. The Falcons/Saints rivalry lives by this, so while we will breakdown the matchups on paper, you should know going in that none of this matters. Any predictions of a shootout could end up in a 9-7 win. Predictions for defensive dominance could mean giving up 500 yards. Nevertheless, let’s take a look at how these rivals match up on paper, even if it will be meaningless come Sunday.

In the trenches

Right now the Falcons are relying on Grady Jarrett almost exclusively. Guys like Steven Means, Allen Bailey, and Charles Harris just don’t move the needle. Takk McKinley is gone and Dante Fowler is on the COVID list, so this entire unit leans on the one guy who produces consistently. The Falcons really need to fix this disastrously bad defensive line going into 2021. Jarrett deserves better than this.

By contrast, the Saints offensive line is a good unit. Tackles Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk are two of the best in the league. At guard, Andrus Peat and Cesar Ruiz are not nearly as good as their counterparts on the edge, so Grady could take advantage of these matchups. While center Erik McCoy is a capable starter, he’s had his ups and downs in pass protection.

Were it not for Grady, this matchup wouldn’t be close. The Falcons don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt, but some interior matchups may make this closer than it should be. Even still, the Saints get the nod here.

Advantage: Saints

The skill positions

The Falcons secondary is a mixed bag. A.J. Terrell is turning in a good rookie season but his counterparts have been mediocre to terrible. Keanu Neal has looked good of late but Ricardo Allen has struggled. Deion Jones and Foye Oluokun have both been good lately and Jones has certainly had a good bit of success against the Saints over the years. In total, this is a mixed bag with some players playing well and others stinking up the joint.

For the Saints, the question is whether Drew Brees being out is a downgrade. Jameis Winston will likely take over, and while he’s not good, he has had some very good games against Atlanta. They will undoubtedly lean on Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas to produce. Given the Falcons struggles in covering tight ends, don’t be surprised if Jared Cook and Josh Hill do damage. Of course, we all eagerly wait to see what Taysom Hill will do with his 6 snaps during the game.

This is probably closer than we realize with Brees out, but Atlanta still has too many question marks. Sean Payton may be Satan incarnate, but he is very good at getting his offense ready.

Advantage: Saints

Overall

As mentioned before, even if this paper matchup favors New Orleans, don’t be shocked if the Falcons hold them to 6 points. That said, this is an offense that can do damage and Atlanta is ... not good. For now, give the Saints the nod but know that the results could be wildly different.

Advantage: Saints