Just two Thursday night games remain in the 2017 NFL season, and the Week 14 matchup between the NFC South rival New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons is one of the marquee Thursday games on the entire schedule. It has huge playoff ramifications with the Saints set as 2-point favorites.
It’s the first time the rivals will play in the Falcons’ new Mercedes-Benz Stadium after some memorable shootouts in the old Georgia Dome. The best quarterback rivalry in the NFL this century and probably ever was Tom Brady against Peyton Manning, whether Manning was with the Colts or Broncos. The NFC’s best rivalry in that regard probably has been the Saints’ Drew Brees against the Falcons’ Matt Ryan – since Ryan entered the league in 2008.
Brady and Manning never played two times in a regular season because they were always in separate divisions. Brees and Ryan play twice every year. Brees is 15-8 in his career against Atlanta with 7,147 yards, 43 touchdowns and a rating of 95.4. The yards are easily his most against any foe. The touchdowns are third. Ryan is 7-10 all-time against the Saints with 5,094 yards and 30 touchdowns for a rating of 99.2.
While Brady and Manning had many a postseason meeting, Brees and Ryan haven’t yet – but that could change this winter. New Orleans (9-3 SU, 8-4 ATS) leads the NFC South by a game over Carolina, but it’s really two games because the Saints completed a season sweep of the Panthers with a 31-21 victory on Sunday. In the win, Brees rose to No. 2 all-time in NFL completions; he should pass Brett Favre for No. 1 next year, assuming he doesn’t retire.
These Saints aren’t like all the previous Saints teams under Brees in that they don’t rely on a pass-heavy attack but instead maybe the best 1-2 punch in the NFL at running back in Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara.
The latter is going to win NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year as Kamara has become just the third rookie ever with at least 600 rushing yards and 600 receiving yards. Kamara and Ingram have combined for at least 200 yards from scrimmage in five straight games. They have each totaled at least 100 from scrimmage four times this year, a first for any tailback duo since 1985. Kamara leads the NFL at 7.0 yards per carry. That’s frankly ridiculous.
The Falcons (7-5, SU, 5-7 ATS) were by far the NFL’s best offensive team last year on the way to the NFC title but haven’t been as explosive in 2017 under first-year coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Sunday’s 14-9 loss was the fifth time the Falcons have been held under 20 points. They have lost all five. Ryan was held without a TD pass for the first time all year and the Falcons were 1-for-10 on third down after entering with the best third-down conversion percentage in the NFL.
This game is clearly more important for the Falcons as they are currently sitting just on the outside of the NFC playoff field in seventh place, one game behind Carolina for the final wild-card spot. Atlanta closes the season at home vs. the Panthers; the Falcons also go to New Orleans in two weeks.
Last year, the Falcons swept the season series from the Saints. Atlanta has been good on Thursdays in recent years, covering six of their past seven. Back the desperate Falcons to eke one out.
December 5, 2017