Saints vs. Falcons: Highlighting Biggest Matchup Advantages on Thursday Night
The New Orleans Saints missed a golden opportunity to get a leg up in the NFC wild-card race when they lost to the San Francisco 49ers a week ago, but a trip to Atlanta to face Matt Ryan and the Falcons gives them another shot to keep their postseason hopes alive.
Remember, Drew Brees and the Saints triumphed over the Falcons in Week 10, ending Atlanta's bid at a perfect season.
Since the start of the 2010 season, Mike Smith's team is 1-4 against the Saints and 32-6 against the rest of the NFL.
Let's break down the biggest individual matchup advantages for each side heading into this pivotal NFC South showdown.
Falcons: Roddy White vs. Saints Secondary
The "duh" matchup advantage of the evening.
Actually, there's more to it than the blatantly obvious.
We know the Saints secondary is rather permeable—the team allow nearly 300 yards passing per game and opposing signal-callers manage an average QB rating of 100.8 when playing against them in 2012.
However, Roddy White was specifically chosen.
He's been the more productive Falcons receiver inside the Georgia Dome this season.
In five games at home, the UAB product has 37 catches for 584 yards with four touchdowns. In his six games on the road, White has 30 grabs for 419 yards with no scores.
Meanwhile, Julio Jones is the polar opposite and has torched opposing secondaries away from home.
Those unusual statistical trends lend credence to the presumption that White is a major advantage for the Falcons tonight.
Falcons: Tony Gonzalez vs. Whoever Covers Him
Tony Gonzalez is the ageless wonder, there's no questioning that.
The 36-year-old—who's in his 16th NFL season—is on pace for arguably one of the best campaigns of his career, which would feature 100 catches, over 1,000 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.
His presence provides a distinct advantage to the Falcons due to the Saints' inability to cover tight ends this season.
Only two teams have surrendered more points to tight ends in fantasy football than New Orleans.
In the Week 10 loss to the Saints, Gonzalez finished with 11 receptions, 122 yards and two scores on a whopping 15 targets.
Saints: Rushing Attack vs. Falcons Run Defense
The Saints' vaunted running back committee has been led by Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory in 2012, with the sneaky Darren Sproles only receiving 27 carries to date.
Nevertheless, the stable of runners has combined for a respectable 4.38 yards per carry on the year.
While that's more than a half-yard regression from the 5.05 yards per carry those four averaged a year ago, they are still quite the underrated group.
Facing a Falcons run defense that allows 4.8 yards per rush, expect New Orleans to feature the run prominently.
In that Week 10 victory, the Saints averaged 5.1 yards on every handoff.
Saints: Jimmy Graham vs. Falcons Secondary
Both tight ends will play integral roles for their respective teams, as they normally do.
The Falcons have surrendered only the 14th-most points to tight ends in fantasy this season, but we mustn't forget Graham's monster game against Atlanta in Week 10.
He was targeted eight times and caught seven passes for 146 yards with two touchdowns.
Although both defenses will likely put an onus on stopping Gonzalez and Graham, the two create definitive matchup problems every time they're on the field. Therefore, limiting their production is easier said than done.