Game Predictions & Player Projections - NO vs. ATL

David Dorey, @DMDorey

Prediction: NO 27, ATL 23

(Line: NO by 1, O/U = 53.5)

UPDATE: Mark Ingram was limited in practices but mostly to rest him for this short week. He is expected to play without limitation. CB Marshon Lattimore will also play and will cover Julio Jones.

Big interdivisional matchup for the NFC South. The 7-5 Falcons are 4-2 on the road and two games behind the 9-3 Saints who are 5-1 at home. The Falcons swept the Saints last year. They won 45-32 in New Orleans in Week 3 and then 38-32 at home in Week 17. Neither team is scoring as much as they did in 2016 and the Saints are bringing one of the better defenses that the Falcons have faced this year.

This is the Thursday night game.

New Orleans Saints

1 @MIN 19-29 10 @BUF 47-10
2 NE 20-36 11 WAS 34-31 OT
3 @CAR 34-13 12 @LAR 20-26
4 @MIA 20-0 13 CAR 31-21
5 BYE xxx 14 @ATL ---
6 DET 52-38 15 NYJ ---
7 @GB 26-17 16 ATL ---
8 CHI 20-12 17 @TB ---
9 TB 30-10      
News | Statistics | Roster
NO @ ATL Rush Catch Pass
QB Drew Brees 240,2
RB Mark Ingram 60,1 4-30
RB Alvin Kamara 80 6-50,1
WR Brandon Coleman 2-30,1
WR Ted Ginn 4-50
WR Michael Thomas 6-80
PK Wil Lutz 2 FG 3 XP

Pregame Notes: The Saints lost their last road game but the Rams are much improved this year unlike the Falcons. These two teams play again in two weeks so the Falcons have everything to gain and the division-leading Saints have everything to lose. This week is the toughest remaining game and a win here goes a long way to wrapping up the division. The Saints already swept the 8-4 Panthers and the rest of the schedule should be wins. Entering into the post-season, the Saints no longer have to worry about weather conditions with a rushing attack that works everywhere and in all conditions.

QUARTERBACK: The Year of Brees-Lite continues. The future Hall-of-Famer only totals just 17 touchdowns on the year and had just three games over 300 yards. The Saints are fortunate to have a ready-made elite passing game waiting in the wings for whenever the No. 1 rushing offense has any problems.

RUNNING BACK: Mark Ingram is nursing a toe injury but it is not expected to be an issue. Ingram's career-best season already saw him score nine times and rush for 100 yards in four games. He's been consistent with around 100 total yards each week. Even with the lower carries, he's still a top back and adds up to six catches to his weekly totals. Alvin Kamara is becoming a certain first-rounder next summer.

Since Adrian Peterson left, Kamara has been nearly unstoppable. He totals 11 touchdowns already and even though he usually ends up with 15 touches or less, he still always turns in over 110 yards and scores. And scores. He is on a six-game streak with no signs of ending. Kamara adds at least five catches each week and topped 100 receiving yards in his last road game. And scored. Twice.

WIDE RECEIVER: The success of the backfield stripped most of the fantasy value from this unit but at least Michael Thomas still ends up with around 70 yards or more in most weeks and just scored last Sunday versus the Panthers after a seven-game stretch of no scores. Thomas offers the only consistently reliable fantasy start though Ted Ginn mixes in 60 or 70-yard games in roughly half of his starts but the other half are fantasy killers with only one or two catches.

TIGHT END: No fantasy value.

MATCH TO THE DEFENSE: The main question is if the Falcons can stop the run. They have allowed only one rusher to top 100 yards and only three backs have scored in Atlanta. But this is the No. 1 set of running backs and there is no reason to bench either. This will be an entirely different Saints offense from what the Falcons have long been accustomed. This is a short week and that normally favors the better rushing team.

The passing stats should be lower here though with a chance of a couple of scores since almost every opponent manage as much versus the Falcons. CB Desmond Trufant was out last week but will return to cover Michael Thomas. That should limit him.

This is not going to be the same shootout as years past. Both Brees and Thomas are worth starting but their outlook is more moderate than in past years for this matchup. This comes down to the two running backs and even on the road, they should be enough facing a below-average defense against the position.

RANKS (1-32, 1 = BEST) TEAM QB RB WR TE PK DEF
Gaining Fantasy Points NO 16 1 14 29 3 10
Preventing Fantasy Points ATL  13 22 6 11 19 6

Atlanta Falcons

1 @CHI 23-17 10 DAL 27-7
2 GB 34-23 11 @SEA 34-31
3 @DET 30-26 12 TB 34-20
4 BUF 17-23 13 MIN 9-14
5 BYE xxx 14 NO ---
6 MIA 17-20 15 @TB ---
7 @NE 7-23 16 @NO ---
8 @NYJ 25-20 17 CAR ---
9 @CAR 17-20      
News | Statistics | Roster
ATL vs NO Rush Catch Pass
QB Matt Ryan 240,2
RB Tevin Coleman 30 2-30,1
RB Devonta Freeman 50 2-20
WR Taylor Gabriel 2-30
WR Julio Jones 4-60
WR Mohamed Sanu 3-50
TE Austin Hooper 3-30
PK Matt Bryant 1 FG 3 XP

Pregame Notes: Losing to the visiting Vikings last week was a troubling sign since the offense never scored a touchdown after beating up teams with 27+ points for the last three weeks. Not unlike Drew Brees, Matt Ryan is running at about half speed from last year. Unlike Brees, the Falcons rushing offense isn't nearly as good as last year. At 7-5, the Falcons are currently the No. 6 seed but that will be hard to hold onto if they cannot beat the Saints in this home game. The Week 16 matchup in New Orleans may become a moot point by then and the season finale is against the Panthers who already beat them in Week 9.

QUARTERBACK: Matt Ryan comes off his first scoreless game of the year and he's been good for a couple of touchdowns each week even if the yardage tends to be much lower than last year. Ryan threw for more than 300 yards just twice this season while eight games ended with 250 yards or less.

RUNNING BACK: Devonta Freeman returned from his concussion last week and ran for 74 yards on 12 carries in the loss to the Vikings. Freeman only ran for 100 yards once this year back in Week 3 and hasn't scored since Week 4. He's been reliable for around 60 to 70 yards per game but has not scored for the last two months. Tevin Coleman rolled up scores in three straight weeks before being blanked in Week 13 when the Vikings held him to only 22 yards on eight runs. When Freeman is healthy and active, Coleman usually ends up with fewer than ten touches.

WIDE RECEIVER: Julio Jones blew up for 253 yards and two scores in Week 12 when the Buccaneers visited. But he had only one other touchdown all year and topped 100 yards only twice. He was shut down by CB Xavier Rhodes last week (2-24). Mohamed Sanu is the better scorer with four touchdowns on the year though he's remained under 50 yards in five of his last six games and scored just once in the last four weeks. Justin Hardy and Taylor Gabriel can show up on the rare occasion but have no reliable fantasy value.

TIGHT END: Austin Hooper rarely ends up with more than three catches. He scored just twice since the season opener and ends up with around 30 yards in most weeks.

MATCH TO THE DEFENSE: CB Marshon Lattimore was out last week with an ankle injury but he almost played and should be back for this week. He'll match on Julio Jones and has been outstanding for a rookie corner. When Lattimore was out last week, Devin Funchess scored once and gained 60 yards. If Jones has a down game - which is already not that unusual this year - then the passing attack slows down significantly.

The Saints have allowed five 300-yard passers this year and all had multiple touchdowns but those came against offenses that had more than just one main weapon in the passing scheme. This is a home game and that helps but Ryan has just not been as effective this year and the Saints play better and will feature a rushing offense to slow the game down. Ryan should end up with one and probably two passing touchdowns along with moderate yardage but the problem is that Jones is the only reliable receiver and even then only for yardage.

Devonta Freeman is a decent start this week but he's been less effective and three of his last four games only featured him catching one pass or never getting a throw. As much as it seems normal to expect a shootout, that is no longer either team this year.

RANKS (1-32, 1 = BEST) TEAM QB RB WR TE PK DEF
Gaining Fantasy Points ATL 20 13 4 18 9 23
Preventing Fantasy Points NO  16 16 14 8 12 5

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