Monday Night Football Preview: Falcons at Saints
by Matt Severance - 11/2/2009
Way to go, Reggie Bush.
The former Heisman winner said this week he thought his Saints could go undefeated this season and that, you know, he would win an NFL MVP at some point.
But that's not why I say the Saints are on upset alert on Monday Night Football against the Falcons. No, I would say they are because they were on this week's cover of Sports Illustrated (featuring a photo of Bush), and we all know about that jinx.
New Orleans (6-0) is off to the second-best start in franchise history; the 1991 Saints started 7-0 but then finished 4-5 and loss their first playoff game. New Orleans has scored 45 or more points in a game four times this season and is averaging 39.7 points a game (nearly 10 more than any other team); the record is 36.8 ppg by the 2007 Patriots … who did go unbeaten through the regular season. The Saints are the first team in NFL history to score 45-plus points in four of the first six games of a season.
But Atlanta, which 10.5-point dog most online sportsbooks, gave New Orleans major trouble last year, and the Falcons also are a dome team, which really can't be overstated. Last year the Falcons beat the Saints by two touchdowns at the Georgia Dome before losing by just four points in Week 14 at the Superdome. For what it's worth, that victory was the first time since Week 12 of the 2005 season that the Saints won a game in which they trailed after three quarters. But then New Orleans did it again last weekend in Miami, scoring 22 fourth-quarter points.
Atlanta's game plan likely will feature a lot of Michael Turner to keep Drew Brees off the field. And the Falcons are 14-1 when Turner has 19-plus carries. But Turner is averaging 3.4 yards per carry, more than a yard less than 2008. Atlanta also is 8-0 when QB Matt Ryan has a 100-plus rating, but Ryan has five picks total in the past three games. The Falcons' two losses this year have been pretty understandable: at New England and at Dallas.
Look for Atlanta to blitz Brees often - the Saints' star was sacked season-high five times last week and threw a season-high three interceptions after throwing just two picks in the first five games. However, the Atlanta secondary is a weakness and has allowed consecutive 300-yard passing games to Chicago's Jay Cutler and Dallas' Tony Romo.
If it's a game full of turnovers, that favors New Orleans, which leads the league with 18 takeaways. The Saints have scored 72 points off opponent turnovers this season - the most in the NFL. Safety Darren Sharper, possibly the best free-agent signing of the offseason, has three interception returns for TDs already this year and an NFL-leading six picks overall. Ryan has thrown at least two picks in back-to-back games for the first time in his young career and hasn't surpassed 200 yards passing in either game.
New Orleans did lose a valuable player for the season this week. Fullback Heath Evans, who has helped pave the way for a Saints running game that is third in the NFL, was placed in injured reserve with a torn ACL suffered last week in Miami. Evans also had three touchdowns this season, two on short receptions.
The line in this game has moved as much as two points at some books toward New Orleans since its open. Approximately 55 percent of the public favors the Saints as of this writing.
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