NFL Game Picks for Week 13 – Thursday Night Football: New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons

The New Orleans Saints, the only team to beat the Atlanta Falcons in this 2012 NFL season, come to town tonight.

Weather:  Irrelevant as long as the fans can get there. It’ll be dome-on-dome crime Thursday night in the Georgia Dome. Or, as Falcons fans say, “The place where Matt Ryan never loses.”

Injuries:

Atlanta:  Emerging DT Peria Jerry is questionable.  Dunta Robinson is now probable after what was either an illness or a headache from yet another helmet tackle by the apparently not only recalcitrant, but also dim DB. Star LB Sean Weatherspoon will also probably be out there terrorizing whichever Saint has the ball. While Drew Brees will not be happy about this turn of events, he may be relieved that interception machine Asante Samuel is doubtful.

New Orleans:  Another thing that will not thrill Brees is that Super Tackle Zach Strief is questionable.  Regular Tackle Charles Brown is out and two other offensive tackles are on I-R. The Atlanta pass rush is smiling.

Relatively unknown but always valuable WR/Special Teamer Courtney Roby is also iffy, along with CB Corey White.

Keys to the Game:

Atlanta offense versus New Orleans defense—Over the past three weeks, the Falcons have scored 24.7 points per game. The Saints D has allowed 25 points per game. Isn’t that synchronistic?

The Saints D has been a laughing stock in 2012, but while no one has been watching Steve Spagnuolo has them improving steadily. They’re still giving up far too many yards at over 400 per weekend, but not as many drives are scoring. Too bad about that almost 120 yards per game on the ground gifted to the other teams’ rushers.

The new-fangled emphasis on the short-passing game has Matt Ryan garnering MVP consideration, but RBs Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers are the big and little (relatively speaking of course) engines that make this offensive engine go. Don’t be fooled by the only 61 yards per game over the past month. The team has to make sure that these two rushers get the ball often enough for QB Ryan to continue his high-flying antics. No. 2 is completing almost 68% of his passes and (last week’s uncharacteristic interception fiesta aside) has 21 scores thus far in 2012.

If Turner and Rodgers get chugging, it will be a long day for the Saints.

New Orleans offense versus Atlanta defense—While Drew Brees and his cadre of Merry Wide Receivers are capable of putting up 50 points, they have averaged 30 over the last three games. They’ll be hard pressed to get that many against the ever more aggressive new-look Falcons D. Mike Nolan is right up there with Cincy’s Mike Zimmer when it comes to defensive coordinators. A group that has always been somewhat undisciplined and, well, soft is suddenly a squad to be reckoned with. If they can hold New Orleans to 25 or so points, the Falcons should prevail.

Bottom Line—Despite a 10-1 record, it’s hard to feel completely confident with these Dirty Birds.. And they keep winning, usually behind some fourth-quarter heroics by No. 2. Except against the Saints, who come to town after a nasty defeat. Atlanta has the more complete team (top ten in both offensive and defensive points) and should win. However, fans ignore Drew Brees at their peril.

Prediction:  Atlanta wins by three or less.

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