By Matthew Asher
When fans hear of football rivalries, a few common ones always emerge: Packers/Bears, Broncos/Raiders and Giants/Jets. While the Falcons/Saints rivalry may not come to mind at first, it definitely should.
ESPN writer Len Pasquarelli considers this rivalry one of the best in sports. “Every year, bus caravans loaded with rowdy (and usually very inebriated) fans make the seven-hour trip between the two cities,” Pasquarelli said. “Unless you’ve attended a Falcons-Saints debauchery-filled afternoon, you’ll just have to take my word for how much fun it really can be.”
On November 20, 1967 in New Orleans, the Saints defeat the Falcons 27-24 for the first game in the series. Since that game, the Falcons and Saints have faced off 86 times. The all-time series is very close. Atlanta holds a narrow 46-40 lead (with one victory coming in the NFL Playoffs), but New Orleans has won 10 of the last 12 meetings, including the three most recent contests.
While that’s a nice history lesson, it certainly won’t help out with the 87th game in the rivalry this weekend. This is one of those games where you have to ignore the win/loss record. New Orleans may be 3-5 while Atlanta is 8-0, but don’t think this will be a walk in the park for the Dirty Birds.
While ignoring the win/loss record is important with this game, it’s also important to see the offensive production both teams have put together. From these stats, this should be an offensive showcase. There are two things the Falcons and Saints both do really well: score points and pick up yards (specifically through the air).
Atlanta’s 27.5 points per game is the seventh most while New Orleans is just one spot behind the Falcons averaging 27.2 points. Atlanta gets the eighth most yardage every game with 376.6. New Orleans gets the fifth most yards every contest with 386.4.
With gunslingers like Matt Ryan and Drew Brees leading their respective teams, it’s obvious most of the yardage gained is through the air. Matty Ice throws for 278.1 yds each game, the seventh most in the league. Drew Brees is outperforming Ryan with 305.4 yards, the second most in the league. This means the game may come down to either great plays by one team’s secondary, or one secondary completely falling apart.
The one offensive stat not mentioned on yardage was on the ground. Both teams are terrible this year. Atlanta is the eighth worst averaging only 98.5 yards in the trenches while New Orleans is even worse than Atlanta with 81 yards, the third worst in the league.
With such good offensive production, you may wonder why the Saints are 3-5 so far. The reason is simple: their defense has been downright terrible. In the four major defensive statistics (points, total yards, rushing and passing yards) New Orleans is in the bottom five of each stat. New Orleans gives up 28.6 points a game (1.4 points a game more than they score) and gives up the most total yards (471.2) and rushing yards (176.5) with the third most passing yards (294.8).
If Atlanta wants to keep their undefeated streak intact this week, the game plan should be simple: limit Drew Brees’ passing and make the Saints anemic running game the only choice to beat the Falcons.
For more Local Football Bloggers and the latest Falcons news, see CBS Sports Atlanta.
Matthew Asher is a freelance writer covering all things Atlanta sports related. His work can be found on Examiner.com.