Falcons - Saints is always one of the matchups I both fear and look forward to most. I fear it because a loss puts everyone in a lousy mood and gives Saints fans something to gloat about, but I look forward to it because the games are often great and a Falcons win can make half a season worthwhile all on its own, to me at least.
This matchup adds a fresh twist of weirdness to an often weird rivalry, as Drew Brees is out and may have already played his final game against the Falcons. That leaves some combination of Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston to lead the New Orleans offense, but the upshot is still that this will be a game where you should expect plenty of scoring and plenty of traditional Falcons - Saints weirdness. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
Here’s one reason I’m feeling perhaps irrationally confident, plus uncertainty that is making me anxious.
Feel confident about the passing game
Calvin Ridley is back! The gifted receiver has averaged almost 90 yards per game against the Saints over four career games, scoring 4 times with 358 yards and a 70+% catch rate. Julio Jones averages over 90 yards per game against the Saints, as well, and has put up some of the most enjoyable games of his career against them.
Those two elite options will key the Falcons passing attack, but the reality is that a rested Falcons passing attack with Julio, Ridley, Russell Gage, recent breakout candidate Olamide Zaccheaus, and Hayden Hurst is tough to stop for just about anybody. With a questionable Marshon Lattimore for Sunday, the Saints may well allow their first 300 yard day through the air in the 2020 season. Maybe I’m foolish or brash, but I think Atlanta’s passing attack will once again put them in a position to win this game, even if ultimately I know they’re going to stall in the red zone at least one more time than we’d like.
Worry about an unpredictable Saints offense
On the flip side of the coin, the ultimate humiliation would be this team losing to a split-time situation between Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston. Hill is a capable runner behind a quality offensive line, while Winston is obviously capable of stretches of impossible gunslinging. If Sean Payton and company play their cards right, they can take advantage of the strengths of both and keep Atlanta off-balance all day.
The Falcons have luckily had all week to prepare for both, but naturally Payton is trying to prevent Atlanta from figuring out which one they’re going to see more of tomorrow by sending mixed signals. The reality is that Hill is a rudimentary passer who would likely be exposed even by the Falcons’ shaky pass defense over the course of an entire game, so he’ll be in there to sow chaos more than anything else when all is said and done. Winston will likely carry the load unless Payton is that confident in his play calling abilities, and despite his flaws he’s capable of the kind of big plays that have killed the Falcons all year.
Let’s just say I won’t be comfortable until we see Hill under center all day and he stinks.