NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (5-6)
at ATLANTA FALCONS (10-1)
Kickoff: Thursday, 8:20 p.m. EDT
Line: Atlanta -3, Total: 55.5
The Falcons try to avenge their lone defeat of the 2012 season when they host the Saints on Thursday night.
Atlanta hasn't been particularly sharp at home with a 2-3 ATS mark at Georgia Dome and failing to win any home game by more than six points. These teams played a very even contest in New Orleans in Week 10, a 31- 27 Saints win, with the Falcons outgaining New Orleans 454-440 and each team turning it over once. Atlanta had a chance to win it late, but couldn’t score in a goal-to-go situation. It was the Saints’ fourth straight victory, SU and ATS, over the Falcons. They’ve won by a field goal in their past two trips to Atlanta.
Who will prevail in this key NFC South showdown? For the answer, connect to The Platinum Sheet for all the StatFox Experts picks for every NFL game throughout the 2012 season and playoffs.
Brees has been outstanding versus the Falcons, throwing for 303 yards per game, 29 TD and 12 INT in 11 meetings since joining the Saints. He threw for 298 yards (9.3 YPA), 3 TD and 1 INT when these teams squared off in Week 10. Although the Falcons are an above-average pass defense (222 YPG, 13th in NFL), they have major injury concerns in the secondary with both CBs Asante Samuel (shoulder) and Dunta Robinson (head) questionable. Atlanta has allowed 275+ passing yards in three of its past four games, and Brees has thrown at least 2 TD in nine straight contests. One player Brees will surely lock eyes with is TE Jimmy Graham who has a touchdown in each of his five meetings with Atlanta, including a season-high 146 yards and 2 TD on Nov. 11. The Saints failed to reach 90 rushing yards in six of their first seven games, but began November with games of 140, 148 and 153 rushing yards before limited to 59 yards (on 21 carries) by San Francisco last week. Pierre Thomas leads the team with 341 rushing yards, but has just 11 carries over the past three weeks, including one against the Niners. Mark Ingram leads the team in rushing attempts, including 38 carries in this same three-game span, rushing for 67 yards on 16 attempts (4.2 YPC) in the win over Atlanta. The Falcons rushing defense has been poor (123 YPG, 22nd in NFL), but they have held three of the past five opponents to less than 100 rushing yards limiting Tampa Bay star rookie Doug Martin to just 50 yards on 21 carries last week. The Saints have fared so well on the road thanks to great ball protection, committing just two turnovers in the past four away tilts.
Ryan is just 2-6 in his career versus New Orleans, but he has thrown all over the Saints since the start of 2011, racking up 378 passing YPG, 6 TD and just 2 INT in these past three meetings. These are actually three of his top-five yardage games in his career (76 games), including his eye-popping, 411-yard career high three weeks ago. Ryan will most likely look for top WR Roddy White, who has 981 receiving yards and 6 TD in 11 career meetings with New Orleans. But he also has WR Julio Jones coming off a career-best 147 receiving yards last week in Tampa Bay, and TE Tony Gonzalez who exploded on the Saints for 11 catches, 125 yards and 2 TD three weeks ago. New Orleans has surrendered the third-most passing yards in the NFL (298 YPG), so expect the Falcons to attack mostly through the air. But even though top RB Michael Turner has been struggling (1.9 YPC in past three games), he could certainly find holes in the Saints NFL-worst rushing defense surrendering 157 YPG. Although Atlanta committed six turnovers in its most recent home game two weeks ago, the team has just 10 giveaways in its other 10 games combined. But the Falcons defense has forced just two turnovers in the past five contests, so this outcome should not be determined by miscues.