The New Orleans Saints will look to avoid their first 10-loss season in the Payton-Brees era. The Atlanta Falcons (8-7) are coming off a win against the Panthers, effectively ending the Panthers undefeated season. The game will be played in Atlanta.
This season has been a rough one for the Saints, but it is evident that the players haven’t given up. A few guys will be fighting for their jobs. The injury report isn’t looking great for the Saints. Wide receiver Marques Colston will not play in the season finale. It is truly unfortunate to see him go out this way. It is hard to see the Saints bringing him back considering his age. Offensive tackle Andrus Peat is out with a concussion, and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe is out with a hip injury. Andrus Peat impressed last week when he started at right tackle in place of Zach Strief. The defense has been significantly better with Dannell Ellerbe on the field, but he has had no luck in staying healthy enough to play. Left tackle Terron Armstead is questionable to play. I’d expect him to play as he has played through a knee injury for much of the season.
The Falcons will be without rookie running back Tevin Coleman. Everyone else on their injury report is listed as probable.
For the Saints to win this week, the offense must get off to a good start, and Julio Jones needs to be contained. At this point, I don’t expect a whole lot from the defense. The offense will have to score a lot of points to win this game. The Saints must maintain balance on the offensive side of the ball, however. Drew Brees is a phenomenal player, and the Saints will likely always be a pass-first team as long as Brees is the quarterback. If the Saints don’t allow themselves to fall far behind early, Tim Hightower will be able to run the ball. Hightower had an incredible game last week against Jacksonville when he ran for 122 yards on 27 attempts and 2 touchdowns. He also caught 3 passes for 47 yards. The Saints will give him the ball as much as possible early to establish the run game. By building a lead early, the Saints will be able to create a safety net for themselves.
Julio Jones is one of the best receivers in the game. In week 6 against the Saints, Jones caught 6 passes for 93 yards and no touchdowns. Quite frankly, he had a quiet game. Delvin Breaux, the Saints’ best cornerback, had one of his best games of the year against the Falcons. Pro Football Focus credits Breaux with only allowing 2 receptions for 20 yards against Jones. It will be interesting to see how the Saints take on Jones. Will Delvin Breaux follow Jones for a majority of the game or will the Saints play sides? I could see the Saints playing Brandon Browner and Delvin Breaux on opposite sides of the field as they have done this the past few weeks. Dennis Allen, the Saints’ defensive coordinator, could also decide to send safety help wherever Julio lines up. The matchup against Julio Jones could easily decide the outcome of the game.
The offensive line needs to protect Drew Brees. Brees was only sacked once in the last game against the Falcons. Giving Brees time is a recipe for disaster for opposing defenses. He has proven to be effective in tearing apart defenses when he is given time. The Falcons have only sacked opposing quarterbacks 19 times this season. The offensive line is also coming off of one of their better games. The play of the offensive line will definitely contribute to the overall outcome of the game.
The defense had one of their better performances of the year against the Falcons as well. Hau’oli Kikaha had a sack and a forced fumble, Dannell Ellerbe was running wild all over the field, and Cameron Jordan had 3 sacks.
The two offensive players I’m going to keep an eye on are Willie Snead and Tim Hightower. Willie Snead is only 51 yards away from 1,000 on the season. I expect him to play with some added fuel as he has already expressed his desire to reach 1,000 receiving yards. Tim Hightower is also someone to keep an eye on. He had one of his best career games last week, and I’m excited to see how he builds off of it. This is a big opportunity for him. He will undoubtedly have a job next year whether it is with the Saints or another team. Ending the season on a high note would certainly lead to more opportunities and potentially a larger contract.
The defensive players I’m going to watch this week are Delvin Breaux, Kenny Vaccaro, and Cameron Jordan. Delvin Breaux was lockdown last week, and the matchup against Julio Jones should be a fun one. Kenny Vaccaro tallied 2 sacks last week. Dennis Allen has brought out the best in Vaccaro. He is playing near the line of scrimmage much more under Allen. What impact will he have in the blitz game? Cameron Jordan has arguably the best defensive player for the Saints. What did he do last time against the Falcons? Well, he ripped through the offensive line for 3 sacks and a fumble recovery. It’ll be interesting to see how he plays this Sunday.
I’m going to take the Saints in this one. I expect them to end the season on a high note, and the Falcons might be a bit cocky coming off of a win against the Panthers. As long as Julio is contained, I think the Saints have a pretty good chance of winning. We will get to see the Saints end the season and hopefully with a win. Go Saints!