SAINTS (9-3) AT FALCONS (7-5), 8:25 p.m.
TV: Ch. 4, NFL; Radio: WCBS (880)
Saints by 1; O/U: 51
The NFC South is arguably the best division in the NFL, and Saints-Falcons is as good as it gets for Thursday Night Football. There’s so much on the line for both teams as they meet for the 97th time (Atlanta leads the series, 51-45).
Let’s start with the Falcons. Last season’s NFC champs won three in a row to get to 7-4, but then ran into the Vikings defense Sunday, losing, 14-9, at home. Now, Atlanta needs a win to stay in the playoff hunt. As for the Saints, a win moves them closer to a division crown and possibly a first-round bye. These teams actually play again in Week 16, so it’s safe to say the rivalry’s outcomes will go a long way in determining the shape of the NFC playoffs.
Since 2013, the teams have taken turns sweeping the season series: The Saints did it first, the Falcons in 2014, the Saints in 2015 and then the Falcons again last year. If the trend is to continue, the guess here is that it will be New Orleans going 2-0. After an 0-2 start, the Saints reeled off eight straight wins, and after a loss to the Rams, bounced back with a nice 31-21 home win over the Panthers on Sunday. The Saints finally have a defense to go with their offense and are one of the most complete teams in the NFL.
Drew Brees also has the luxury of having one of the best backfields with Mark Ingram and record-setting rookie Alvin Kamara. The Saints average 142.6 rushing yards per game, third best in the NFL, and their 5.0 yards per carry is No. 1. Kamara has hit his stride the last few weeks, and his ability as a pass-catcher (59 for 614 yards, the latter the most for a running back this season) will give the Falcons fits.
This game should live up to the hype, so expect an exciting one that won’t be decided until the fourth quarter. The Saints (7-5 against the spread) have been the far more consistent team, and while the Falcons (5-5-2 ATS) need the game more, New Orleans is the total package and will hold on for its 10th win. Call it 27-23.
The pick: Saints
Bob Glauber: Falcons
Tom Rock: Falcons
Calvin Watkins: Falcons