The New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons meet for the second time in three weeks on Sunday. Taysom Hill and the Saints easily dispatched the Falcons 24-9 in Week 11 at the Superdome. New Orleans put together a dominant defensive performance, logging eight sacks and a pair of interceptions. The Saints shut out the Falcons in the second half.
— NFL (@NFL) November 24, 2020
For the Falcons (4-7) to have any chance of defeating the Saints (9-2), they need a better display from their offense. Matt Ryan had the worst game of his 2020 season last time around, barely completing half his passes (19-of-37) and throwing for 232 scoreless yards with two interceptions. He ended with a brutal 48.5 passer rating.
In recent weeks, it’s been the Falcons’ defense that has carried them to victory, including last Sunday’s 43-6 shellacking of the Las Vegas Raiders. The Falcons, who are 4-2 since Raheem Morris was named the interim head coach, forced five turnovers and posted five sacks. They won by 37 despite Ryan throwing for under 200 yards.
Can the Falcons’ defense lead their team to victory in Week 13? Let’s make four bold predictions ahead of this NFC South showdown.
1. Falcons contain Taysom Hill
Saints quarterback Taysom Hill made his first start of the season against the Falcons, completing 18 of 23 passes (78.3 percent) for 233 yards. Filling in for starter Drew Brees (rib fracture, punctured lung), Hill rushed 10 times for 49 yards and two touchdowns.
Taysom Hill made some big-time plays in the New Orleans Saints' win over the Atlanta Falcons 👀 pic.twitter.com/EmDkwTxJGD
— Steven Psihogios (@StevenPsihogios) November 28, 2020
With a full game of action to study up on, the Falcons will be more prepared to handle Hill’s unique quarterbacking style. The run-first quarterback will not replicate the same level of success this time around. Atlanta’s improved defense, which has held opponents to under 25 points in six of their past seven contests, makes the necessary adjustments on Sunday.
Hill accounted for 282 of the Saints’ 376 yards in Week 11. The Falcons’ defense will not allow him to single-handedly beat them once again.
2. Calvin Ridley tops 100 yards receiving, scores TD
After producing 90 yards against the Saints in the first head-to-head contest, Calvin Ridley will follow up with an even more impressive outing on Sunday. The Falcons are reportedly hopeful that Ridley’s star teammate, Julio Jones, will play after missing Week 12 with a hamstring ailment. Regardless of whether Jones can suit up or not, Ridley needs to manufacture a big day.
The Saints have one of the best defenses in football. In addition to ranking No. 2 in rush defense, they have a vaunted secondary led by cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins. Ridley, one of the game’s best talents, faces a daunting challenge on Sunday.
The Falcons know they are unlikely to find success in the ground game. Todd Gurley, who is questionable for the contest, ran for a season-low 26 yards on eight attempts when the two teams last met. With the Falcons looking to throw more often than not, it will be Ridley who will benefit the most, albeit in a difficult matchup.
Expect Ridley to break the 100-yard mark and reach the end zone for the second consecutive week.
3. Michael Thomas scores 1st TD of season versus Falcons
It’s truly shocking that Michael Thomas, the 2019 Offensive Player of the Year, has not scored a touchdown all season. Injuries have limited him to five games played, but that’s plenty of time for an elite wideout to catch a touchdown.
Thomas led the NFL in receptions in each of the past two seasons, being named an All-Pro both years. Thomas also finished with the most receiving yards last season, but has reached 100 yards in a game just once in 2020—Week 11 against the Falcons.
Having his best game of the 2020 season this week was Michael Thomas.
Mike was back to his weekly scheduled programming against ATL, catching 9/11 targets for 104 yards and earning an 84.0 Overall grade in the process.
That 84.0 grade ranks 5th among all qualifying WRs in W11. pic.twitter.com/csp2WxvPcS
— PFF NO Saints (@PFF_Saints) November 24, 2020
While Thomas is unlikely to reach the 100-yard benchmark again, he should reach pay dirt on Sunday. Hill has wisely thrown to Thomas quite often in his two starts. 18 of Hill’s 39 pass attempts have been thrown in the direction of Thomas. With a 46.2 percent target share over the past two weeks, Thomas will have plenty of opportunities on Sunday.
The Falcons lack a shutdown corner to slow down Thomas. The 27-year-old finally finds the end zone in Week 13.
4. Falcons end Saints’ winning streak with upset victory
The Saints, winners of eight in a row, look like the favorite to reach the Super Bowl out of the NFC. They have won each of their past four contests by 14-plus points.
A three-point home underdog, the Falcons (4-7) would love nothing more than to play spoiler against their bitter rivals. Atlanta has a newfound energy under defensive-minded Raheem Morris.
Assuming the Falcons can slow down Hill and get a respectable performance by their offense, they have a great shot to upset the Saints, who hold the NFC’s top record. Look for the Falcons to avenge their Week 11 loss to the Saints and creep closer to the .500 mark with their second straight win.