With training camp approaching quickly, we’re taking a look at each of the New Orleans Saints’ divisional rivals. First up are the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons.
While things are somewhat quiet these days for the New Orleans Saints and the rest of the NFL’s clubs, it’s as good as time as any to scout out each of the team’s NFC South rivals on an individual basis. From recent history between the clubs to a look ahead to this season, we’ll get started with the divisional and conference champion Atlanta Falcons.
2016 Results: This past season, the Falcons swept their longtime rivals for the second time in three years (after the Saints pulled the trick in both 2013 and ’15). On a Monday night in the Big Easy (Week 3), Atlanta rolled to a 45-32 win. In the season finale in Atlanta, the NFC South champions held on for a 38-32 victory.
2017 Meetings: Sean Payton’s club plays four of its final five games in 2017 vs. their divisional brethren. That includes both encounters with the Falcons. Four days after hosting the Carolina Panthers, the Saints travel to Atlanta for a Thursday night tilt (Week 14). Two weeks later, New Orleans clashes with the reigning NFC champions (Week 16).
Analysis: So can the Falcons avoid the same fate as the Carolina Panthers this past season? Ron Rivera’s club went from a 15-1 NFC champion to a 6-10 cellar dweller in one year. Perhaps the biggest issue facing Dan Quinn’s club was the memory of their Super Bowl LI collapse.
Truth be told, the Atlanta defense is still in need of some help. The unit got some positive contributions from rookies such as safety Keanu Neal as well as linebackers Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell. Second-year outside liebacker Vic Beasley led the NFL with 15.5 sacks. But this team ranked 25th overall in the NFL in total yards allowed. It also surrendered 46 offensive touchdowns and totaled only 34 quarterback traps. The addition of defensive tackle Dontari Poe should help. But using a first-round pick on UCLA defensive end Takkarist McKinley may be more significant.
You can expect 2016 NFL MVP Matt Ryan to have another solid season, even with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan moving on. There’s talent to spare with running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, as well as wideouts Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel and Justin Hardy. Ryan set a record this past year by throwing at least one touchdown pass to 13 different players.
Even more of an issue for the New Orleans Saints is the Falcons’ recent success in this series. Consider that Atlanta rolled up a combined 73 points in their sweep of Sean Payton’s club in 2016. Once again, Payton’s defense needs to answer the bell.
Russell S. Baxter covers the New Orleans Saints for Pro Football Spot. You can follow him on Twitter at @baxfootballguru. Looking for more Saints news and features? Like our Saints Facebook page HERE and also follow @spot_saints on Twitter.