New Orleans Saints (0-0) at Atlanta Falcons (0-0)
|Date & Time||Sunday September 7, 2014, 1:00 PM (EDT)|
The Line: New Orleans Saints -2.5 -- Over/Under: 51.5
The Atlanta Falcons host the New Orleans Saints in a battle of offensive heavyweights in the NFC South from the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
The New Orleans Saints are coming off an 11-5 season in 2013 where they lost at Seattle in the divisional round of the playoffs. Head coach Sean Payton took the preseason seriously in 2014 with a 3-1 record, with the loss coming in week four which is essentially a throw away game.
The Saints offense looks to once again be a potent unit after ranking 2nd in the league in passing yards in 2013 while averaging 307.4 yards per game. Quarterback Drew Brees lost one of his favorite weapons in Darren Sproles, but the pass catching unit is still formidable with Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham, and emerging star Kenny Stills all commanding defensive attention. The Saints will mostly feature running back by committee with Mark Ingram earning the starting job in the backfield and Khiry Robinson and Pierre Thomas each figuring to see action; Pierre Thomas caught 77 balls last year and figures to fill the safety valve role left by the departed Darren Sproles.
On defense, the Saints are headed in the right direction after defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s schemes served to elevate the group in 2013. The addition of safety Jairus Byrd figures to further strengthen a passing defense that ranked 2nd in the league last season while conceding just 194.1 yards per game. The Saints ranked fourth in the league last year while allowing just 19 points per game to the opposition as well as Cameron Jordan had a breakout season at defensive end and made the Pro Bowl to headline a front seven of mostly young players with plenty of potential.
The Atlanta Falcons had a miserable year in 2013 going 4-12 as combination of injuries and leaky defense plagued the team consistently. The Falcons have had the HBO Hard Knocks cameras following them around while the team has preached a new sense of toughness, which has surfaced in stretches during a 2-2 preseason campaign under head coach Mike Smith.
The Falcons offense features a potent aerial attack headed by seventh year QB Matt Ryan and wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White. Both Jones and White faced injuries last season but both appear healthy to start 2014 with Jones representing one of the most lethal deep threats in the entire league. Gone from the pass catching unit is veteran Tony Gonzalez who retired, giving Levine Toilolo the chance to step up in the starter’s role in his second year out of Stanford. In the backfield veteran Steven Jackson will try to stay healthy after being sidelined much of last year and Jacquizz Rodgers will offer shifty speed and the ability to catch short passes in space.
On defense, the Falcons have a lot of work to do after ranking 31st in the league in rushing yards allowed in 2013 conceding 135.8 yards per game and ranking 21st in the league in passing yards allowed while giving up 243.6 yards per game. Paul Worrilow led the team in tackles in his rookie season in 2013 at the inside linebacker position and the Falcons made signings in the front three to limit damage at the point of attack with the additions of nose tackle Paul Soliai and defensive end Tyson Jackson. The secondary added free safety Dwight Lowery but still has a pair of inexperienced corners in Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant.
The Falcons have a strong record at the Georgia Dome under Matt Ryan’s direction but the Saints look to be the more complete team and better coached team. I’ll take the Saints to get the win in the season opener.