This Week 3 matchup between the 1-1 New Orleans Saints and the 1-1 Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, September 23 at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA is an NFC South must-win for both teams.
The Saints and the Falcons are in a three-way, divisional second-place tie with the 1-1 Carolina Panthers, so the winner of this matchup has a decent shot at claiming that spot outright. Especially considering the Panthers will have to beat the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals that same day for them to go 2-1.
The Saints’ offense put up 40 points in Week 1 but got beaten by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers anyway, their defense giving up 48 points to ‘FitzMagic’ and crew. Then the Saints defense stepped up but the offense looked impotent in Week 2 as they barely squeaked by the Cleveland Browns 21-18.
Meanwhile, the Falcons offense completely failed them as they lost 18-12 to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1, and Atlanta’s defense barely held on against the final-minute surge of the Panthers in their Week 2 win by a score of 31-24.
Who’s favored to win this Week 3 Saints-Falcons matchup?
Which team has a better offense? Defense? Special teams?
Which team’s veteran quarterback is more likely to lead his team to victory?
We’re going to compare the Saints and the Falcons and attempt to answer those questions and more.
The 2018 Saints offense is led by a master
After two games, 39-year-old quarterback (and future Hall-of-Famer) Drew Brees has thrown for 682 yards, third most in the league, and has a completion percentage of 81.3 which actually leads the NFL. His quarterback rating of 123.0 comes in third overall, and he’s one of the few active quarterbacks who still hasn’t thrown an interception in 2018.
Despite those numbers, Brees’ offense is ranked just 14th in the league, and the reason for that is the poor running game.
Saints star running back Mark Ingram is in the middle of serving a four-game suspension for violating the league’s performance enhancing drug (PED) policy. In the meantime, second-year phenom Alvin Kamara (2017 All-Rookie, 2nd Team All-Pro) has stepped in, but with him the Saints running game is ranked last in rushing yards per game, (52.5).
Brees has managed to connect well with wide receivers Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn Jr., averaging 322.5 passing yards per game this season, fourth best overall.
Can the Saints’ passing game continue to make up for its less than capable running game until Ingram’s return?
The 2018 Falcons offense
Falcons’ 33-year-old veteran quarterback Matt Ryan is having a much slower start to his 2018 season than is Brees.
In two games, Ryan has thrown for 523 yards (ranked 17th), has a completion percentage of 62 (ranked 21st) and has a QBR of 82.1 (ranked 25th). His 2018 offense has moved the ball a total of 741 yards, which puts them smack dab in the middle of the NFL offensive pack.
The main reason Ryan’s passing offense has had any success at all is because of (as usual) All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones. He alone has averaged 116.5 receiving yards per game, having caught 15 balls in the two games he’s played. Unfortunately, those were for a very low number of touchdowns (zero), a problem that’s haunted Jones throughout his otherwise impressive career.
Though running back Devonta Freeman is still out with the knee injury he sustained against the Eagles in Week 1, backup Tevin Coleman stepped in and ran the ball 16 times against the Panthers in Week 2 for 107 yards.
Can Coleman continue to rush big yards and can Jones put up scores against a Saints defense that’s been struggling to find its way?
Saints Defense ranks 29th in the league, Falcons D ranks 11th
The strength of their defense is where the Falcons seem to have the edge over the Saints in this matchup. New Orleans’ defense has allowed opponents to gain 856 overall yards, while Atlanta’s D has kept challengers to just 671yards.
The Saints, who’ve allowed 102.5 rushing yards per game are ranked slightly better against the run than the Falcons, who’ve allowed 117.0 – good news for an Ingram-less New Orleans team.
The Falcons, however, are much better against the pass, having allowed 218.5 passing yards per game compared to the Saints’ 325.5 – good news for Ryan, who could use a big game from his arm.
Atlanta has sacked opposing quarterbacks four times – two of those by defensive end Takkarist McKinley and the other two by cornerback Brian Poole.
New Orleans has only had three sacks – two of those by All-Pro defensive end Cameron Jordon and the other by defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins.
Which defense will step up and pressure the other team’s quarterback more?
The kicking battle in this NFC South matchup will be an interesting one between an old veteran and a youngster in his third NFL season.
For the Atlanta Falcons, 43-year-old Matt Bryant has been kicking field goals for various teams in the NFL since 2002. Only two other active NFL players are older (and both are kickers): 43-year-old Phil Dawson of the Arizona Cardinals, and 45-year-old Adam Vinatieri of the Indianapolis Colts.
Despite his age, Bryant has made 98.9% of his extra points and 85.9% of his career field goals, his longest being a 62-yarder in 2006. He did miss an extra point in Week 1 this season when the holder juggled the snap and his kick hit the right-side upright.
Kicking for New Orleans is 24-year-old Wil Lutz, who’s been with the Saints his entire career since 2016. He’s made 96.2% of his extra points and 83.8% of his field goals, the longest being a 57-yarder.
If it comes down to a kick (as it has in quite a few 2018 matchups), will youth or experience prevail?
Saints-Falcons prediction and odds
The oddsmakers have the Saints as a current +3 favorite to win with an over/under of 53.
CBSSports.com’s final score prediction: Falcons 41, Saints 34.