It is Hate Week again, the bi-annual celebration of everything hated between the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints. It is no wonder there is such animosity between the fan bases: Saints fans despise that Atlanta fans are generally more knowledgeable about football, better educated, make more money and are better looking, while Atlanta fans are still salty the Saints have cheated their way to a Superbowl.
Hate Week is alive and well, with Saints fans likely already putting on full body makeup in anticipation of days of drinking, partying, debauchery, and if they have time, a football game. I shouldn't have to mention the Falcons have been playing pretty well (8-0) while the Saints have been trending upward the last month (3-1) after a positively atrocious start.
Since this is a Falcons blog (I may be biased), we won't go over the recent history between the two teams but will instead focus on the matchup Sunday.
Zach Streif is injured. A quality right tackle, if he fails to play on Sunday, will be replaced by Charles (Charlie) Brown. Brown has shown little, if any, starting NFL talent and will see plenty of Jonathan Abraham and a red hot Kroy Biermann. With the Saints somewhat improving run game, we may see Jonathan Babineaux attacking Brown when Mike Nolan puts in three down linemen. I hope to see Mike Nolan unleash some of his more exotic formations and play calling, like what we saw against Denver, to confuse and pressure Drew Brees. Biermann vs. Brown may be the most important matchup of the game.
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Darren Sproles is likely still out. Sproles has been a ridiculously valuable X factor for the Saints, great at making something out of nothing either running or catching the ball. Sproles broke his hand recently but New Orleans has adjusted by actually running the ball. Kind of weird for them, sure, but they have about a dozen backs on their roster. It has given them some much needed balance on offense but offense has rarely been their problem. If Sean Weatherspoon is out again this week, Sproles on the bench is a great thing for our defense.
The Saints "wet paper bag" defense. Do not let the Saints Monday Night Football win against the Eagles confuse you. The Eagles are that bad. For instance, in 25 career games, Cameron Jordan had four sacks. He had three on MNF.
Steve Spagnuolo helps to show that without the New York Giants defense he is a mediocre coordinator. The Saints are currently 32nd overall in defense (YPG). It is even worse if you look at the statistics, with the Saints allowing over 50 yards more per game than the 21st Buffalo Bills defense.
Even with Curtis Lofton (BOOOO!!!!!!) and Jonathan Vilma at linebacker, the Saints are of course 32nd overall in run defense. While many analysts predicted the Eagles offense would get back on track against the Saints historically terrible defense, the Falcons have an offensive line to protect the quarterback enough to carve up this Saints defense.
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Fantasy football recommendation: Start all Falcons. Look for the Falcons to attack the Saints underperforming secondary, including underperforming Jabari Greer and terrible Johnny Patrick. Expect Roddy White and Julio Jones to both have a ridiculous day.
The Saints will be forced into nickel to help their poor coverage, meaning it may be even easier for Michael Turner to run. Whether or not Michael Turner can still run is a big question, but he will not face too much resistance in New Orleans.
Expectations: Falcons remain undefeated. Not that I have ever gone into a Saints game expecting a loss, but this matchup has the likelihood of being the most one-sided shellacking since... well, I suppose our last Saints game just with a different result. The Falcons high powered offense against a disastrous Saints defense, while Atlanta's improved pass defense hopefully enough to slow down their pass game. These division games are usually closer than expected but I expect Atlanta to play their best ball of the year.
Get more great Atlanta Falcons news and analysis over at The Grits Blitz.