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Can Falcons Spoil New Orleans’ Playoff Hopes?

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By Matthew Asher

Following a 48-21 beatdown by the Tampa Bay Bucs, the 2-8 Falcons have no time to sit around and lick their wounds as they head back to the Georgia Dome where they will take on the 8-2 New Orleans Saints Thursday night.

NEW ORLEANS, LA - SEPTEMBER 22:  Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints throws a pass against the Arizona Cardinals at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on September 22, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints throws a pass against the Arizona Cardinals (Credit, Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

In their first meeting of the season, New Orleans was able to come from behind to beat Atlanta 23-17. Since then the Saints have only gotten better and the Falcons have only gotten worse. On paper this is a game that New Orleans should dominate in every way. Of course, that’s why you play the games. Either way, it’s going to be a tough game for the Dirty Birds.

Saints on Offense

On offense, New Orleans is one of the best teams in the league. They trail only the 9-1 Denver Broncos regarding points scored, total yards and passing yards with 28.8, 419.1 and 321.9, respectively.

Drew Brees has done an excellent job of passing the ball this season. He’s completed 68.2 percent of his throws for 3,369 yards, 26 touchdowns against only eight interceptions for a very impressive quarterback rating of 106.7. He’s currently on pace to throw for 5,390 yards (which would be the second most yards ever), 42 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

Brees does a great job of spreading the ball around. Five different Saints have recorded at least 20 receptions and four of those players have more than 400 receiving yards. Tight end Jimmy Graham leads the team (and is in the top 10 in the NFL in every category) with 60 catches for 846 yards and 10 touchdowns.

The ground game is the one area of the Saints offense that needs improvement. Even with Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram in the backfield for New Orleans, the team averages just 97.7 rushing yards a game, the 10th lowest in the league. The three main running backs have combined for 779 yards and just four rushing touchdowns in 186 attempts for a respectable average of 4.2 yards per carry.

Saints on Defense

Just like their offense, New Orleans defensive numbers are also very impressive. The 18.3 points surrendered each game are the fifth lowest in the league. The 305.4 total yards and 191 passing yards allowed are the fourth and third best in the league. The only weak spot for the Saints defense is their rushing defense which gives up 114 yards a game, the 17th worst.

New Orleans does a good job of ball control. They average almost 34 minutes of possession time each game, second only to the Carolina Panthers, and are currently at plus-three in the turnover department.

With Atlanta now all but eliminated from the playoffs, it looks like they may have to be content to play the role of spoiler for the other playoff-eligible teams for the rest of the season.

Kickoff is scheduled for Thursday at 8:25 pm EST. 

For more Falcons news and updates, visit Falcons Central.

Matthew Asher is a freelance journalist. From an early age, sports have played a major role in his life. He graduated from Emory University with a B.A. in Journalism. After college he spent 2 years working with CNN Sports and still occasionally writes sports articles for several publications both in the United States and Canada. His work can be found on Examiner.com.

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