The Atlanta Falcons are wrapping up their bye week and heading into a critical Week 12 matchup against the Saints. It will be the fourth time in the last five seasons the team is playing New Orleans right after the bye, and it would be awfully nice to get that win against our most hated rival.
Will Atlanta do it? That likely depends on the improvements they make, but I thought it was worth taking a quick look at the recent history of Falcons performance coming out of the bye, and then diving into how Arthur Smith has fared in particular.
Recent bye week history
2022: 18-21 loss to the Saints
2021: 30-28 win over the Dolphins
2020: 9-24 loss to the Saints
2019: 26-9 win over the Saints
2018: 38-14 win over Washington
2017: 17-20 loss to the Dolphins
2016: 38-19 win over the Cardinals
2015: 21-24 loss to the Colts
2014: 27-17 win over the Buccaneers
2013: 31-23 win over the Buccaneers
2012: 30-17 win over the Eagles
In total, they’re 7-4 over this time period during their bye weeks. They tended to be really good coming out of the bye in the Mike Smith era—Smitty’s Falcons were 6-1 all-time against post-bye weeks opponents—and merely decent in the Dan Quinn/Raheem Morris era at 3-3. They’re 1-1 thus far after the bye under Arthur Smith.
Consider the circumstances of those two post-bye seasons for Smith. Last year, the Falcons swapped out Marcus Mariota for Desmond RIdder after Atlanta lost four of five games heading into the bye, many of them in deeply embarrassing fashion. Smith had resisted making the change before then because the Falcons were nominally in the playoff hunt, and predictably, Ridder’s first game was a pretty quiet effort on the road against New Orleans, as he passed for 97 yards and ran for just 38. The team closed the gap at the end thanks in part to a bonkers game from Tyler Allgeier, who ran 17 times for 139 yards and a touchdown, with Cordarrelle Patterson chipping in over 50 yards and a touchdown of his own. Unfortunately, a long Taysom Hill touchdown pass and two touchdown tosses from Andy Dalton gave the Saints enough points to win.
The prior year, the Falcons were facing the Dolphins after dispatching the Jets in London and getting an early bye. It was the best two-game stretch of the season for Matt Ryan, who posted 300-plus yard, 2-or-more touchdown efforts in back-to-back weeks; Ryan would only have one more 300 yard game in 2021 as the passing game slowly crumbled to dust, the state it remains in two years later. On that day against Miami, the Falcons simply outgunned the Dolphins, with a touchdown grab for Calvin Ridley, 67 yards and a touchdown for Russell Gage, and a career game that has yet to be equaled for Kyle Pitts, who turned seven receptions into 163 yards. Interceptions from Foye Oluokun and Jaylinn Hawkins against Tua Tagovailoa helped the team stay ahead to win.
The hope for Atlanta will be that they have the firepower to look like they did against the Dolphins a couple of years ago, putting up the kind of point total that a scuffling New Orleans offense probably can’t match. If they can’t get the win coming out of this bye, they may be saying goodbye to any playoff hopes and dreams.