The New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons will get to know each other quite well over the next 2 1/2 weeks as the NFC South rivals play the first of their two meetings in that stretch on Thursday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. First-place New Orleans posted its ninth win in 10 outings with a 31-21 victory over Carolina last week, although the Falcons control their own destiny with four games remaining versus division foes.
“I like where we’re at, but I feel like we can continue to get better,” said New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, who has thrown for an NFL third-best 3,298 yards. “There’s still things I feel like we’re leaving out there, opportunities that we’re leaving out there, that if we want to accomplish and go where we want to go, then we’ve got to continue to improve upon and get better at those things.” Running backs Mark Ingram (NFL-best nine rushing TDs) and rookie Alvin Kamara haven’t been wasting many opportunities, as the duo has combined for at least 200 scrimmage yards in five consecutive games - totaling 1,243 scrimmage yards and 13 touchdowns. Impressive statistics to be certain, but Matt Ryan and the Falcons had the Saints’ number last year as the reigning NFL MVP completed 47 of 66 passes for 571 yards with six touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 127.8 in the season sweep last season. “Everything we want is still in front of us,” Ryan said of the Falcons, who reside on the outside looking in of the NFC playoff picture.
TV: 8:25 p.m. ET, NBC, NFL Network. LINE: Saints -1.5. O/U: 53
ABOUT THE SAINTS (9-3): While New Orleans’ high-octane offense has produced consistent headlines over the years, the team’s defense has made vast improvements in 2017 - permitting only 17.9 points in the last 10 games. NFC Defensive Player of the Month for November Cam Jordan has registered 10.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss this season and has eight sacks, a forced fumble and fumble recovery in his last nine encounters with Atlanta. Rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who has made progress from an ankle injury that sidelined him for the past two games, could be in line to guard wideout Julio Jones on Thursday.
ABOUT THE FALCONS (7-5): Atlanta boasts a potent pair of running backs in its own right in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, with the former faring well with 12 carries for 74 yards in his return from a concussion in a 14-9 loss to Minnesota on Sunday. Coleman has recorded five touchdowns (four rushing, one receiving) in his past five games overall and four (three rushing, one receiving) in his past two against New Orleans. Jones (NFC-best 1,063 receiving yards) was limited to two catches for 24 yards versus the Vikings, but has 361 receiving yards and a touchdown in his past three homes games versus the Saints.
1. Atlanta Pro Bowl CB Desmond Trufant was a full participant in practice on Tuesday as he bids to return to game action after sustaining a concussion.
2. New Orleans WR Michael Thomas has at least five catches and eight targets in each of his last seven games, but has topped 100 yards receiving in just one of those contests.
3. Atlanta’s Ben Garland will get the start as fellow LG Andy Levitre has been ruled out with a triceps injury.
PREDICTION: Saints 27, Falcons 21