The New Orleans Saints travel to NFC South division winner Atlanta Falcons for a Week 17 matchup. The Saints have been eliminated from playoff contention for weeks not but expect the Saints to remember the week 3 “shuhh-lacking” they received from their division rival. The Saints have shown glimpses of a successful season in the future and will be tested heavily by the Falcons’ powerhouse offense. Drew Brees and his offense will have to play immaculate if they hope to beat the Falcons and escape a third straight losing season.
With the loss of Seattle on Saturday and Detroit on Monday night, the Falcons have an opportunity to jump to the #2 seed in the NFC and clinch a first round bye. MVP contender Matt Ryan will have his offense running in playoff form but the Saints’ defense has improved exponentially since Week 3. The absence of Delvin Breaux will most likely hurt the Saints’ in the secondary heavily but look for Dennis Allen to run three safety sets like he has all season. What should be a great offensive turnout for both teams could decide home field advantage for Atlanta throughout the postseason.
Players to Watch:
Wide Receiver – #10
Brandin Cooks has been one highlight for the Saints this season. The Saints will have to find a way to outscore the Falcons on Sunday if they hope to win their last game of the season. Cooks will be heavily involved in the offensive gameplan – look for head coach Sean Payton to streak Cooks through the seams opposite of Coby Fleener. Cooks’ character has been a question mark in the Saints’ organization since his comments earlier this season, so this will be the last time he has the opportunity to prove that he is the future for New Orleans.
Defensive End – #94
Cameron Jordan has been the Saints’ leading pass rusher all season and will have to play up to that title in hopes of slowing Matty Ice. The Falcons’ offense has been immaculate this season, having had three players selected to the Pro Bowl, and Jordan will have to play like one on Sunday. Cameron needs 2.5 sacks to match his 10 sacks from a year ago and although that is no easy task, Jordan will be hungry to finish the season right.
Free Safety – #31
It is no secret that Jairus Byrd has not lived up to his potential since landing in New Orleans in 2012; he was even benched earlier this season for rookie Vonn Bell. Byrd finally showed a glimpse of his potential in the black and gold with two interceptions, one of which clinched a Week 16 victory against the Buccaneers. It is unlikely that the Saints will cut Byrd in the offseason due to a huge dead cap hit, but his playing time moving forward could be determined in Week 17.
Players to Stop:
Runningback – #24
Devonta Freeman has now put together great back-to-back seasons for the Falcons. The Florida State product has emerged as one of the best backs in the NFL and will be headed to his second straight Pro Bowl as well. He has bailed out quarterback Matt Ryan countless times and will be a huge key for the Saints’ defense in film study this week. The Saints have to control the time of possession this week, which starts by holding the Falcons’ run game in check on Sunday.
Wide Receiver – #11
Julio did not do much damage against the Saints in Week 3 (1 rec. 16 yards) but is now gearing up for his first playoff appearance for the Falcons since 2012. The Saints’ secondary, although playing better than Week 3, will have an array of receivers to cover, including Jones. It is no secret that the Falcons will put up points, but New Orleans must limit Julio’s big play ability and make some of the other Atlanta weapons beat them.