The NFC South’s oldest and nastiest rivalry is renewed for its 107th installment, which this year doubles down as the kickoff game for both teams.
The Falcons and the Saints will both get up a bit more than usual in this game, as losing to the arch rival is unacceptable for both teams and their fanbases. The teams split the season series last year, with the Saints now winning seven out of the past nine matchups dating back to 2017. This immediately followed a string of three consecutive Falcons victories, which was their most successful string of results in the Sean Payton era.
Payton (along with Drew Brees) ushered in the most successful era in Saints history when he arrived to New Orleans in 2006. One of the most satisfying parts of this era to Saints fans will no doubt be the fact that their team went 22-10 in this time period. It’s a dominance the Saints haven’t seen since they won six consecutive matchups in the second half of the 1980s, and even that was only over a five year stretch.
Even with that incredible recent success against Atlanta, however, the Falcons still own the head to head series lead at 54-52 (this includes a 1-0 record in the playoffs), illustrating how dominant they were against their rivals up until the mid-2000s.
Payton is now gone and the Falcons have survived his successful reign with their lead still intact, albeit very narrow. Winning streaks of nine consecutive games in 1970s and 10 straight in the 1990s helped the Birds build such a lead that even a 68.7% winning percentage over a 16-year period hasn’t been enough for New Orleans to overtake the series lead.
Despite the Birds for the most part being a dumpster fire throughout their first 40 or so years of existence, they were always really good at one thing — beating the New Orleans Saints. What’s ironic is that when Atlanta embarked on its most successful era in team history, which started in 2008 with the arrival of Matt Ryan, that’s when they stopped beating the Saints. They were just 10-18 against New Orleans in the Ryan era. This of course coincided with Payton’s successful era in Louisiana.
With both the Sean Payton and Matt Ryan eras simultaneously ending following the conclusion of the 2021 season, each team will now look to successfully transition into another time period of prosperity, holding firm to the knowledge that victory against their archrivals will continue to always be an expectation as opposed to just hope when it comes to each fanbase.
The Falcons had only pride to play for going into the 2021 season finale, after having been eliminated from the NFC playoff picture the week before following a loss in Buffalo. The Saints, at 8-8, still had a shot at the playoffs with a win and some outside help.
It was a competitive matchup early in the second quarter, with the Falcons answering an opening Adam Trautman touchdown with back to back Younghoe Koo field goals (with a Brett Maher missed field goal for New Orleans sandwiched in between Koo kicks).
The game unfortunately turned into a rout by halftime, thanks to turnovers by the Falcons on back to back opening plays of their final two drives before the break, combined with the defense allowing the Saints to score points on every one of their drives following the Maher miss. It was 24-6 going into the half, and the Falcons never got back to within one score.
The only real positive from this game is that the final pass in the legendary Falcons career of Matt Ryan went for a touchdown to Russell Gage, 14 years after his first ever professional career pass was a touchdown to Michael Jenkins.