We’re in the home stretch of the 2017 NFL Season and somehow Thursday Night Football has ended up with a relevant game. The New Orleans (9-3) Saints travel north to take on the Atlanta Falcons (7-5) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The game shines brightly into the night like a beacon of hope via the NBC television network and its affiliates at 8:25 p.m. EST.
The Game: New Orleans at Atlanta Falcons (+1)
The Saints and Falcons have faced off 96 times since 1967. Atlanta holds a 51-45 advantage in the all time series.
Last year the Falcons swept the saints, winning 45-32 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and 38-32 at the Georgia Dome.
NEW ORLEANS (9-3)
The Saints roll into Atlanta off a huge 31-21 victory over the Carolina Panthers. It was a key NFC South match up that saw New Orleans go a game up with a tiebreaker over the Panthers in the quest for a home playoff game.
While the Panthers are built as a running team, the Saints have embraced it as part of their overall offensive character this season. Quarterback Drew Brees can still light it up, but with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara splitting duties at running back and pounding the ball, the 38 year old future Hall of Famer can downright relax. In fact, he might not throw for 5,000 yards this year, instead hitting around 4,500 or so… the bum.
Against Carolina, Brees was 25 of 34 for 269 yards and a touchdown. Ingram carried the ball 14 times for 85 yards and a touchdown. Kamara had nine carries for 60 yards and a score. The rookie out of Tennessee added five catches for 66 yards.
There’s been talk and hyperbole that Ingram and Kamara might be the best running backfield ever, and that’s completely ridiculous. I mean, LaDanian Tomlinson played with Darren Sproles and Tomlinson is already in the Hall of Fame. Thurman Thomas and Kenneth Davis were pretty spectacular for the Buffalo Bills back in the 1990s and played in four Super Bowls. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Hell Marshall Faulk and Steven Jackson played together for as season with the St. Louis Rams. Ingram and Kamara are good, but this is a Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott situation like the late 1990s/early 2000s Tampa Bay Buccaneers had. Don’t get stupid.
Here’s what was really great about that Panthers win. The defense sacked Cam Newton twice, forced a turnover and got four stops in the backfield. They held Carolina to 26:39 in time of possession and 3-of-10 on third downs and 0-for-2 on fourth downs.
New Orleans will be without Andrus Peat in this one. He’s got a groin issue. Ingram is questionable and didn’t practice with a toe, but my guess is they’re just holding him out since it’s a Thursday game.
ATLANTA FALCONS (7-5)
Atlanta had a three game win streak halted abruptly by the Minnesota Vikings defense in a 14-9 loss at home. The once vaunted Falcons offense was held to a paltry three field goals in the defeat and completely scoreless in the fourth quarter when they had plenty of opportunities to put the game away. Matt Ryan was less Matty Ice and more Matty Bathtub Brew, completing 16 of 29 for 173 yards and no touchdowns. He didn’t throw an interception, but the team’s complete ineptitude on third down (1-for-10) meant he didn’t have to.
Devonta Freeman’s return to the offense did give a spark. He carried 12 times for 74 yards and, just looking at the score and those totals, it seems like if offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian had actually focused a little more on the run game, something good could have happened. Maybe Sarkisian was seeing all these college coaches getting fired and started having Nam-like flashbacks.
Atlanta’s defense did notch a couple of sacks and four stops in the backfield, but they were on the field a ton. Minny possessed the ball for 34:02 minutes.
The Falcons will be without tight end Eric Saubert and guard Andy Levitre. Everyone else practiced and should play.
Atlanta bounced back from a midseason swoon to get right back into the playoff hunt. They met a brick wall last week with the Vikings. While the Saints don’t have the same defensive prowess as Minnesota, they bring much more offense to the table. Brees has one more run in him and this might start it off. Saints 38, Falcons 35
Straight up: 13-3
Against the spread: 10-6
Straight up: 117-75
Against the spread: 101-91
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