Game Overview ::
By MJohnson86 >>
- Very simple for the Saints – must-win game if they want a chance to get in the playoffs.
- These teams had an eventful game in their first meeting, with the Falcons pulling off a 27-25 last-second win.
- Both offenses have turned into run-heavy teams over the second half of the season, ranking 21st and 23rd in the league in situation-neutral pass rates.
- The Falcons were eliminated from playoff contention last week.
How New Orleans Will Try To Win ::
New Orleans will continue to be a run-heavy operation with Taysom Hill operating as their quarterback. The Saints have run the ball on 51% of their offensive plays during Hill’s four starts. This week they face a Falcons run defense that is 30th in DVOA, 26th in yards per carry allowed, and 28th in PFF rush defense grade. The Falcons are also a team who just had their playoff hopes put to rest last week and have nothing to play for, other than ruining the Saints chances at the playoffs.
New Orleans will use their dual-threat rushing attack to stretch the Atlanta defense and attack their overmatched front seven horizontally. The Saints also involve their running backs heavily in the passing game, essentially acting as an extension of the running game at times as a way to stay conservative but give defenses a different look. The Saints had a condensed target tree in last week’s win over Carolina, with Kamara and Marquez Callaway combining for 16 of the 23 targets that Saints pass catchers saw. This week may see a return of Mark Ingram, while Deonte Harris should be practicing in full after missing most of last week on the COVID list; both situations that should work to spread the distribution of targets a bit more evenly than we saw last week. The Saints have their season on the line and will lean into their clear and obvious strength against a team that is dead in the water and is already vulnerable to rushing attacks.
How Atlanta Will Try to win ::
One of the great mysteries of the 2021 NFL season will be how the Falcons were able to stay in the playoff race until Week 17. The Falcons have somehow managed a 7-9 record despite a -136 point differential, which is 27th in the league. Of the nine games the Falcons have lost, seven of them have been by double digits with four of those being by over 20 points. Truly incredible stuff that a team who was that consistently bad was able to find a way to seven wins and also impressive that all seven of their wins were in one-score games.
Atlanta was a pass-heavy team last season and early this year, but the losses of Julio Jones and then Calvin Ridley have transitioned them to a balanced squad out of necessity. Matt Ryan has a potential out in his contract after this season, and the Falcons may be at a point where a change is coming, making this potentially his last game with the franchise. While that is not necessarily likely (it would be a $40 million cap hit to the Falcons to cut him), it also would not be entirely surprising if they let him go, take their lumps in 2022, and draft a new franchise QB in 2023. The Falcons have been splitting their backfield pretty evenly between Mike Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson recently, as Patterson is clearly dealing with some health issues. It wouldn’t be shocking for Patterson to be rested this week. The Saints have an elite run defense, but their pass defense is also very good – which is no surprise as it has been their defense that has kept them in postseason contention despite a disappointing offensive season. Kyle Pitts is also battling a hamstring injury but needs 58 receiving yards to break the NFL single-season record for receiving yards by a rookie tight end. The Falcons will continue their balanced attack but are likely to struggle to move the ball consistently.
Likeliest Game flow ::
The Saints are likely to control this game as the Falcons offense is simply not explosive enough to take a big lead on the Saints defense in a must-win game. New Orleans is methodical and run-heavy, meaning this game is likely to be a grinder with the Saints gradually pulling ahead. This has been a heated rivalry over the years, so I don’t expect the Falcons to just roll over, but the Saints running game is likely to keep the chains and the clock moving as Atlanta has struggled mightily with good running games this year. Just last week the Bills, a normally pass-first team, ran for 233 yards and four touchdowns against them. Buffalo spread the field and ran with their own dual-threat QB, Josh Allen, and their running backs – potentially setting the blueprint for the Saints in Week 18.
- The Saints will make the playoffs if they win and the 49ers lose, a very realistic outcome considering San Francisco is playing in Los Angeles against the current 2-seed Rams who must win to hold on to their division lead.
- The Falcons were alive for the playoffs until last week when they lost to the Bills 29-15.
- Perhaps the most unpredictable teams in the last week of the season are those who were just eliminated from the playoffs. Teams who were eliminated long ago have been playing for nothing for a while, so there is less reason to change things for this last week. Teams that were just knocked out often have some players who were playing through injuries that they can now shut down or players who they will protect for future years and/or salary cap purposes in case they want to cut them in the off-season. Something to keep in mind with Atlanta and other teams in similar situations.