The New Orleans Saints (5-6) travel to the Georgia Dome to take on the Atlanta Falcons (10-1) for the NFL’s Week 13 installment of Thursday Night Football. Though no one expected either team to possess their current record through 12 weeks, this game still has plenty of implications as the 2012 season begins to wind down.
The Saints stumbled out of the gate with four losses (including the Kansas City Chiefs only win on the season) before rattling off five wins in their past seven outings. While a win tonight would certainly help their postseason chances in a cluttered NFC, a loss would be a crippling blow for a team expected to contend on a yearly basis.
Drew Brees is again having an MVP-caliber year under center, but it has become apparent that he can’t do it by himself. Without a viable running game—or at least the commitment to one—and a defense that hasn’t shown the ability to stop anyone, New Orleans finds itself in must-win situations from here on out.
The Falcons, on the other hand, control their own destiny as the top seed in the NFC. Though they have been involved in a few games that could have gone either way—and handed a couple in other instances—no team goes through an entire season without close calls.
However, the Saints did hand Atlanta its only loss on the season, defeating the Falcons in Week 10 by the score of 31-27. If that game is any indication of what will unfold Thursday night, you might want to get your popcorn ready.
The Falcons will want their revenge and stay distanced from the rest of the contenders in the NFC, while New Orleans just needs to find a way to enter the conversation. The NFL got lucky with this potentially epic matchup kicking off the Week 13 slate.
Here is one bold prediction for each team, along with fantasy football "beast or bust" candidates in Thursday’s matchup.
4 Different Players Find the End Zone for Saints
Brees has thrown 31 touchdowns on the season to eight different targets, seven of which have tallied at least two. While it may be frustrating at times for fantasy owners to pick and choose who will benefit from the quarterback’s generosity on a weekly basis, the Saints offense keeps opposing defenses off balance.
Though Atlanta has only allowed 11 touchdowns passes on the season, three of those came in the Week 10 loss to the Saints.
With New Orleans in must-win mode, expect the offense to do what it does best: Brees playing pitch and catch with his receivers, tight ends and running backs.
Falcons Roll Up 500 Yards of Total Offense
During the Week 10 loss to the Saints, Atlanta’s offense tallied 454 total yards—including 411 passing yards from quarterback Matt Ryan. If Thursday’s game is anything like round one, expect even more out of this group.
Though Ryan more than likely won’t approach that many yards this time around, the Falcons should be able to exploit a porous Saints’ run defense unlike last meeting.
New Orleans is allowing a league-worst 156.5 yards per game on 5.0 yards per carry. If Atlanta can find more balance in the offense, it could allow for an even bigger total in round two.
Fantasy Beasts: Every Key Name on Each Offense (Sans the Fantasy Bust Below)
Not to cop out here, but this matchup has the potential to keep the score keeper very busy—even more so than the first matchup when 58 points and 894 yards of total offense were tallied.
Both offenses thrive on spreading the ball around, and there are plenty of big names that could have a huge impact on your roster heading into the fantasy playoffs.
The safer names are the quarterbacks here, as both threw for three touchdowns and at least 298 yard in the last meeting. Also in Week 10’s matchup, both starting tight ends—Tony Gonzalez and Jimmy Graham—combined 18 catches for 268 yards and four touchdowns.
However, don’t shy away from Julio Jones, Roddy White, Marques Colston, Lance Moore or Darren Sproles either. All will play huge parts on Thursday night.
Fantasy Bust: Michael Turner
If you noticed, Michael Turner wasn’t mentioned above. While his seven touchdowns (rushing and receiving) are serviceable this season, the running back has only tallied 78 yards on 41 carries over his last three games—good enough for only 1.9 yards per carry.
Atlanta might not be willing to completely hand over the reins to second-year back Jacquizz Rodgers just yet. However, this team hasn’t shown the commitment to running the ball all season long.
Though the Saints run defense can be gashed, the Falcons only had 46 yards on 17 carries in the first meeting. Unless they plan on completely turning the tables on Thursday night, Turner is not a good play.
Follow Jeremy on Twitter @KCPopFlyBoy.