It’s hard to believe that the season has already come to a close (for the teams that didn’t make the playoffs, that is). The New Orleans Saints (7-8) will travel to Atlanta to take on the Falcons (10-5) in their last game of the season. At this point, New Orleans is out of playoff contention, so they’re playing for pride and draft position. However, a Saints’ win and Seahawks’ victory over the 49ers would force the Falcons to play in the wild card round of the playoffs. 

Five Things to Watch For

1) Zach Strief vs. Vic Beasley Jr.

One of the keys for the Saints each week is to protect Drew Brees, and this week, right tackle Zach Strief will face a tough test as he will battle Vic Beasley Jr. for most of the game. Beasley was labeled a “bust” by some after an underwhelming rookie season where he only posted four sacks. However, he has shown a great deal of development as he now leads the league with 14.5 sacks this season. Zach Strief has had a strong season, but when he struggles, it’s typically against speed rushers. Vic Beasley is now one of the league’s best speed rushers.

2) Mark Ingram

Mark Ingram has had an interesting season, to say the least. In his first seven games, he averaged 3.8 yards a carry and was benched in the game against Seattle after a costly fumble. However, since his benching, he has averaged 6.2 yards a carry. Ingram is yet to have a season with 1,000 rushing yards, but he is in good position to reach that mark this season. He only needs 60 yards to reach the 1,000 mark. There is no doubt that the players and coaches know he is near the highly-sought number. Look for the Saints to try to get Ingram in a rhythm early on.

3) Falcons WRs vs. Saints CBs

The Saints’ group of cornerbacks couldn’t look more different than the initial group in August (as seen be the tweet below).

Sterling Moore and B.W. Webb will be the starting corners for the Saints, and undrafted rookie DeVante Harris will be the third corner. Julio Jones has established himself as one of the top wide receivers in the league, and the Saints’ corners will likely struggle to contain him. If the Saints are to slow down Atlanta’s high-powered offense, the cornerbacks will need to be sound in coverage.

4) Atlanta’s Play-Action Pass

Matt Ryan has posted phenomenal numbers this year and will likely be the league MVP. One of the reasons for Ryan’s successes is offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Shanahan employs a large number of play-action passes, and their offense has become more potent as a result. The Saints’ secondary must maintain the integrity of their zone and man assignments on play-action passes if the defense is to have success.

5) Brandin Cooks

It will be interesting to see how Brandin Cooks performs on Sunday as the Falcons will be without corner Desmond Trufant. Historically, Cooks has struggled against Trufant; in the previous matchup this season, Cooks was held to two catches for 13 yards. A career-high in receiving yards has already been achieved, but he needs one more touchdown to tie his career-high for receiving touchdowns.

Predictions

  1. Saints lose to the Falcons by a score of 34-27.
  2. The Saints sack Matt Ryan four times.
  3. Taylor Gabriel has a scoring play of 40+ yards.