The (7-2) and current NFC South Division-leading New Orleans Saints will be seeking their 7th straight win in a row this Sunday, when they host their visiting and long-time hated arch-rivals the (3-6) Atlanta Falcons at home in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Kickoff is set for 12:00 p.m. Central standard time and will be broadcast regionally by FOX; and the game can be viewed locally in NOLA on WVUE New Orleans FOX Channel 8.
🚨 Officially Falcons Week 🚨
Sunday ⚜️ Noon CT ⚜️ FOX pic.twitter.com/WlfCSrzNnl
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) November 16, 2020
With that in mind, here are Big Easy Magazine’s 5 “Bold” Predictions for this highly-anticipated match-up. And as always: we’ll count them down first beginning with #5 and then work our way down to #1.
Starting first with….
#5. JAMEIS WINSTON MAKES HIS FIRST START AT QUARTERBACK FOR THE SAINTS IN PLACE OF THE INJURED DREW BREES, WITH MIXED RESULTS
Obviously all eyes will be squarely on Winston, who’s expected to make his very first start in place of the injured Drew Brees; who likely will be out a minimum of 3 games (and possibly more) as he begins the slow recovery process from the multiple injuries that he’s incurred in the past 2 weeks, which include 5 broken / fractured ribs and a collapsed lung.
Although not their original intention, the Saints coaching staff will finally get a glimpse of how well or not Winston has learned how to successfully operate head coach Sean Payton‘s diverse offensive scheme; and much like last season when Teddy Bridgewater (now the starting QB for Carolina) started 5 games in place of Brees, Payton is expected to put together a game-plan that will highlight what Winston himself does best.
In Sunday’s contest, the 26-year old Winston will have “mixed results” — as he completes 23 out of 36 passing attempts for 313 yards and 2 passing TD’s — but also is intercepted late in the 4th Quarter in what turns out to be a costly mistake.
#4. MATT RYAN AND THE FALCONS PASSING ATTACK HAS A BIG DAY AGAINST AN IMPROVED-BUT-STILL SHAKY-AT-TIMES NEW ORLEANS DEFENSIVE SECONDARY
After a disastrous start to their season (0-5) that got previous head coach Dan Quinn fired earlier last month, Atlanta has since rallied to win 3 of their last 4 games under interim head coach and defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, who may have done just enough so far to be given the job permanently.
As it is, the Falcons have actually won their last 6 consecutive road games against the NFC South, which is the 3rd-longest active streak of consecutive road wins against divisional opponents in the NFL. Bottom line: this once again will be your typical game in the history of this series, where you can throw the win-loss records right out of the proverbial window.
In Sunday’s game, it will be the Falcons passing attack that has a huge performance, as QB Matt Ryan will throw for over 400 passing yards and 3 passing TD’s against an improved but still at-times vulnerable Saints defensive secondary, which also yields 100-plus receiving yards to both starting Atlanta WR’s Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley.
#3. SAINTS #2 RUNNING BACK LATAVIUS MURRAY HAS HIS BEST PERFORMANCE EVER IN A SAINTS UNIFORM
One way that the Saints are likely going to try to make Winston comfortable in his first start is by committing more to the running game, led by NFL MVP candidate Alvin Kamara and #2 back-up Latavius Murray.
And while Kamara will have his normal solid performance in the lead role, it’s the “power” running style of Murray that usually brings with it a sense of urgency and unrelenting effort that can emotionally inspire his teammates on both sides of the football.
And that inspiration will be clearly evident on Sunday, as the 8th year veteran has what is his best performance ever while in a Saints uniform; as he totes the ball for 19 carries for 122 yards and 2 rushing TD’s, while making several memorable broken tackles against the Falcons defensive Front 7.
#2. THE SAINTS DEFENSIVE PASS RUSH SHINES BRIGHTLY YET AGAIN IN ANOTHER SOLID EFFORT
In spite of the less-than-impressive start by the Saints defense (specifically the secondary) in the early part of the season, they have rebounded strongly in recent weeks and now somewhat amazingly are currently ranked as the 4th best defense overall in the entire NFL.
Clearly the impetus for that remarkable improvement is due to the recent stellar performance of the Saints defensive pass rush, led specifically by veteran All-Pro Cam Jordan, young defensive ends Trey Hendrickson and Marcus Davenport, and suddenly-surging defensive tackle David Onyemata; who all have combined to help make the Saints defense the #1 rated unit in the League at pressuring opposing QB’s (or QB “pressures”).
That trend will continue this Sunday, as the Saints pass rush hits and hurries Falcons QB Matt Ryan early and often; while notching 4 sacks, 6 QB “hits”, and 8 total QB pressures.
#1 THE SCORE IS TIED AT 27-27 HEADING INTO THE 4TH QUARTER WHEN….
When Matt Ryan hits a WIDE OPEN WR Calvin Ridley on another blown coverage assignment by the Saints secondary, putting the Falcons ahead by a score of 34-27 with nearly 12 minutes remaining on the game clock.
The Saints get the ball back, and go on what will end up being one of the most critical and time-consuming drives of their entire season up to this point, as they eat up over 8 minutes worth of clock while completing a 13-play, 81-yard drive that’s ultimately capped off by Murray’s 2nd running TD that once again ties the score up at 34-34.
Now there’s only a little less than 3 minutes remaining in the game, and the REAL FUN begins.
On a key 3rd-Down-and-7 play on their next possession, Ryan is hit and stripped from behind by his long-time Saints defensive nemesis Cam Jordan; and the Saints quickly pounce on the ball for the recovery and appear to be in good position to win the game with a field goal at the end by kicker Wil Lutz.
But much to the absolute horror of Saints fans watching on from across the nation, Winston is pressured in the pocket and makes an ill-advised decision and pass attempt to Saints WR Emmanuel Sanders that is INTERCEPTED by Falcons CB A.J. Terrell.
With less than 30 seconds remaining and now in possession of the ball back at their own 22-yard line, Atlanta opts to kneel on the ball and the game suddenly is headed for overtime.
The Falcons win the coin-toss and possess the ball first in overtime, but the Saints defense stiffens in what’s their best defensive series of the game, and Atlanta is forced to punt; and the Saints take possession on their own 28-yard line.
As Who Dats everywhere are holding their collective breath, on the very first snap Winston throws a pass to Kamara that at first appears to be headed for lost yardage; but the Saints 2020 NFL Offensive MVP candidate somehow manages to remain upright and after breaking not one, not two, but THREE tackle attempts by the Falcons defense — RAMBLES 72 yards for the game-winning score — and the Saints sideline erupts in celebration as they earn a heart-stopping overtime victory that gives a resilient New Orleans squad its 7th straight victory while maintaining the lead in the NFC South Division….
FINAL SCORE: SAINTS 40, FALCONS 34 – OVERTIME
Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked previously as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending their games as a young boy during the early 1970’s, uptown at the old Tulane Stadium. He is also the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius