The New Orleans Saints (7-2) have won six in a row, but they will have to make do without Drew Brees, who has broken ribs and a collapsed lung. Enter Jameis Winston, the 2019 passing yardage leader, who is no stranger to facing the Atlanta defense from his time in Tampa Bay.
Atlanta Falcons vs. New Orleans Saints
Sunday, November 22, 2020 – 01:00 PM EDT at Mercedes-Benz Superdome
The Falcons (3-6) have won three of their last four games, but are still a 5-point underdog in this one at most NFL betting sites. Can the Falcons pull off the upset?
Jameis Is the Anti-Brees
For the last four seasons, the Saints have run a specific offense built around throwing quick, short passes to Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, and relying on yards after the catch. It has worked extraordinarily well, even when Thomas was injured this year or when Brees missed five games in 2019. However, Teddy Bridgewater was the backup quarterback last season when the Saints were 5-0. Like Brees, he is very comfortable at taking the short throws and not aggressively pushing the ball down the field.
Winston is a gunslinger. He threw 33 touchdowns and 30 interceptions last year, the first 30-30 season in NFL history. In 2019, the Tampa Bay offense led the NFL with 10.3 air yards per pass attempt while the Saints were dead last at 6.4 yards. This year, the Saints are last again at 5.4 air yards. It will be interesting to see how coach Sean Payton eases Winston into this offense. Winston’s last start with Tampa Bay was against Atlanta, and he threw a game-ending pick-six in overtime. He has good numbers in nine games against the Falcons (25 touchdowns, nine interceptions), but the turnovers are always a concern.
There is also likely an increase in snaps this week for gadget player Taysom Hill, especially in the form of designed runs. Will that throw off Winston’s rhythm if Hill continuously comes in on third down like we saw on Sunday against the 49ers after Brees was removed due to injury? It all remains to be seen how Payton wants to approach this offense without Brees.
Obviously, Kamara is still great, and Thomas is finally back, but the Falcons could be catching New Orleans at the most opportune time as the offense adjusts to this big quarterback change. The Falcons have allowed 22.6 points per game in the last five games, after allowing 34.5 points per game in the first four games this season. Firing head coach Dan Quinn after five games was the right move.
Matt Ryan’s Under the Radar Season
This NFC South race would be much more interesting if the Falcons were 6-3 right now. They were so close to doing so, but Atlanta found the most excruciating ways to lose games to the Cowboys, Bears, and Lions this year.
The defense has played better since Raheem Morris took over as the interim coach. It is also worth pointing out that Matt Ryan has seen his best stretch of the season. In the last four games, Ryan is completing 72.8% of his passes with eight touchdowns, two interceptions, and a 111.3 passer rating. In the first five games this season, Ryan’s passer rating was only 90.2. Ryan has quietly moved up to sixth in QBR (78.1) for the season.
The biggest knock on this Atlanta offense is the red zone, which is largely responsible for the Falcons leading the league in field goals per drive, but only 15th in scoring touchdowns per drive. The good news is the Saints rank 30th in the NFL, allowing a touchdown 75% of the time in the red zone. The bad news is the Atlanta defense ranks 31st, so this could be another shootout between these division rivals.
Overall, Ryan is 9-14 as a starter against the Saints in his career, including a 4-8 record in New Orleans. It would help if Calvin Ridley can return for this matchup, but his foot sprain is still a hurdle for his playing status for Sunday. Julio Jones will likely draw Marshon Lattimore in coverage, but Lattimore is not 100% healthy either.
Perhaps it should be a golden rule that you never bet serious coin on the Atlanta Falcons, no matter how good the NFL odds look. They will always find some way to disappoint you in the end.
Rules be damned, I like the Falcons in this matchup. They are familiar with this opponent and Winston. They have an offense that can match score for score. The defense has improved.
If you set aside the absolute domination the Saints laid on Tampa Bay, this team’s winning streak saw them trail 14-0 in Detroit, trail 20-3 against the Chargers, need a game-winning field goal to beat Carolina, a 10-point comeback and overtime win in Chicago, and the 49ers were up 10-0 on Sunday. Brees was masterful throughout this run to lead the team back, especially before halftime, and until we see Winston look comfortable with this offense, I would take the Falcons with the points this week.
For more trends like this, check our NFL Cheat Sheet.