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Atlanta Falcons vs. New Orleans Saints: Prediction, preview, pick to win

By The Sports Xchange
Atlanta Falcons vs. New Orleans Saints: Prediction, preview, pick to win
Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons meet the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

ATLANTA FALCONS (9-5) AT NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (10-4)

GAME SNAPSHOT

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KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Mercedes-Benz Superdome. TV: FOX, Kevin Burkhardt, Charles Davis, Pam Oliver (field reporter).

SERIES HISTORY: 97th regular-season meeting. Falcons lead series, 51-45 and have won the last three matchups, including a 45-32 win last season in New Orleans.

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KEYS TO THE GAME: This will be the first of back-to-back NFC South showdowns for the Falcons.

Atlanta controls its destiny even though it trails New Orleans and Carolina, its Week 17 opponent, by a game in the standings.

The key for the Falcons will be stopping the Saints' dynamic running back duo: Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara.

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When Atlanta beat New Orleans two weeks ago, Kamara played on just one drive as the rookie suffered a concussion. He returned last week to gain 89 yards from scrimmage and take a Drew Brees pass 29 yards for a score. Both he and Ingram are threats on the ground and through the air.

In practice this week, the Saints made adjustments to help contend with Atlanta running back Devonta Freeman.

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Freeman, who missed two games last month with a concussion, vowed not to alter his punishing running style.

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The Falcons will need to get wide receiver Julio Jones more involved. Since a 12-catch, 253-yard outburst in Week 12, Jones has just 10 catches in three games. On Monday in Tampa Bay, he seemed to disappear for long stretches.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

--Falcons LG Ben Garland vs. Saints DT Sheldon Rankins. Garland has put together two strong outings. He lost the starting right guard battle to Wes Schweitzer in the exhibition season. He's a mauler in the run game and has held up well in pass protection. The stout Rankins has 22 tackles and one sack. He also has an interception, which the 305-pounder nearly returned for a touchdown.

--Saints WR Mike Thomas vs. Falcons CB Desmond Trufant. Trufant had footing issues against the Bucs, but he tried to fight through them. He did a solid job against Thomas in the previous meeting, but Drew Brees won't hesitate to come his way. Thomas has blossomed into a star, headed to his first Pro Bowl. He has caught 94 passes for 1,085 yards and five touchdowns.

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FRIDAY INJURY REPORT

ATLANTA FALCONS

--Questionable: G Andy Levitre (triceps)

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

--Out: TE Garrett Griffin (foot), DE Trey Hendrickson (ankle), TE Michael Hoomanawanui (concussion)

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Saints LB Manti Te'o. Te'o has had his two highest tackle totals of the season in the last two games, including a season-high 10 against the Falcons. With SLB A.J. Klein out for the season, Te'o takes on an even bigger role calling signals for the defense, though he doesn't play in the nickel defense the way Klein did. The Falcons' effectiveness running the ball and throwing it to running backs will challenge Te'o and his fellow linebackers.

FAST FACTS: The Falcons are 9-0 when scoring 20 points in 2017. ... QB Matt Ryan has 2,191 yards passing, 15 touchdowns and four interceptions in his past seven games vs. New Orleans. ... RB Devonta Freeman had 194 yards from scrimmage (126 rushing) and a touchdown last week. ... WR Julio Jones ranks third in the NFL with 1,215 yards receiving. ... DE Adrian Clayborn has 7.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in his past six games. ... DE Takkarist McKinley leads NFC rookies with six sacks. ... LB Deion Jones leads the team and ranks fourth in the NFC with 118 tackles. ... S Keanu Neal has four forced fumbles in his past five games vs. division foes. ... The Saints are the only team in the NFL with three players with 1,000 yards from scrimmage each: RB Mark Ingram (1,420), rookie RB Alvin Kamara (1,336) and WR Michael Thomas (1,085). ... Saints QB Drew Brees ranks third in the NFL with a 104 quarterback rating and fourth with 3,850 yards passing. ... DE Cameron Jordan leads the team with 10 sacks, his third career season with 10 sacks. ... Rookie CB Marshon Lattimore aims for his third game in a row with an interception. ... S Kenny Vaccaro led New Orleans with 10 tackles in Week 15.

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PREDICTION: Two weeks after a bitter loss in Atlanta, the Saints will have their two-pronged rushing attack ready to go. It'll be close, but Drew Brees knows how to win the close ones.

OUR PICK: Saints, 24-21.

--Ched Whitney

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