The Atlanta Falcons look to advance to 6-0 in Thursday night’s game at division rival New Orleans. The first game of NFL week six kicks off at 8:25 pm eastern time and is televised on CBS (and NFLN). The Falcons are favored by 3½ points and the point total is listed at 51½ at most venues.
Injuries – New Orleans (1-4) need this game to turn their season around, but could be without the services of three starters on offense. LG Tim Lelito is out with a shoulder injury, LT Terron Armstead is doubtful due to a knee injury suffered two weeks ago, and WR Marques Colston is doubtful with a bad shoulder. Atlanta will be without two starters: OLB Justin Durant (elbow) and C Mike Person (ankle), but WR Julio Jones (probable; toe, hamstring) is expected to play.
Atlanta is looking to defeat the Saints on the road in consecutive games for the first time in 13 years. The Falcons won back-to-back games in New Orleans in 2001-02, but have been 3-9 in the Big Easy since then. Atlanta is the first team in NFL history to start 5-0 despite trailing in the 4th quarter in four of those games. New Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn spent nearly twenty years as a defensive line coach prior to becoming Seattle’s defensive coordinator for two years, when the Seahawks were the NFL’s best defense and won the Super Bowl. While it is still a work in progress, Atlanta’s defense has noticeably improved from the porous sieve that they were the last couple of years. The Falcon offensive line suffered through more than their share of injuries last year; that group being healthy has led to a much improved offense, especially running the ball. RB Devonta Freeman leads the NFL with eight rushing touchdowns and is second with 405 yards rushing. Despite a rough game last week against Washington, QB Matt Ryan is still completing 65% of his passes and averaging 291 passing yards per game. WR Julio Jones leads the league with 190 yards after the catch and is second overall with 545 yards receiving (109 yards per game).
New Orleans has been in a tough spot ever since the penalties imposed in the bountygate case; the loss of those draft picks plus having to pick late in the draft year after year have taken their toll. However, their biggest problem this year is that the strategy of pushing salaries into future years has caught up with them and placed them in salary cap jail. The Saints have a whopping $31.8 million in dead money on their salary cap, with a combined $25.5 million devoted to four players that are no longer on their roster: TE Jimmy Graham, LG Ben Grubbs, LB Junior Galette and LB Curtis Lofton. The end result is a woeful defense that is allowing and NFL-third worst 28.6 points per game, ranks last at 409 yards allowed per game, is 30th against the run (136 yards per game), and is 32nd with 6.5 yards allowed per play.
Prediction: In past seasons I would not even consider going against the Saints at home, but that home field advantage has completely dissipated. While I am still skeptical about Atlanta – I think they are still a year away, until some more talent can be assembled on defense – the Saints’ ship is sadly sinking quickly. The Falcons should be able to win this game easily, without having to resort to another late-game comeback.
Pick: Falcons 34, Saints 20
Falcons -3½ (three units); over 51½; Atlanta -180 (two units)
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Tags: 2015 NFL Season Atlanta Falcons CBS Devonta Freeman Drew Brees Julio Jones Marques Colston Matt Ryan New Orleans Saints NFL Week 6