The Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints hate each other. This year, they get to take each other on in the first week of the season to get a big battle out of the way early on. In doing so, there are multiple battles that stand out that could decide the game.
The Falcons feature a ton of receiving talent in Julio Jones, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, Harry Douglas and even Jacquizz Rodgers and Steven Jackson out of the backfield. There are also the questions around the Falcons young, developing offensive line.
On defense, Atlanta has a couple of questions with its young cornerbacks and how they will adjust to the pro game. However, playing against a middling Saints corps should benefit the Falcons, especially without the deep threat that Joe Morgan provided last year.
Jimmy Graham versus the Falcons linebackers and safeties also looks to be a good matchup. But the biggest three battles of the day will be how Lamar Holmes holds up against Cameron Jordan, how the Saints cornerback pairing of Keenan Lewis and Jabari Greer defends Jones and White, and how the interior of the Falcons defensive line plays against the interior of the Saints offensive line.
Lamar Holmes vs. Cameron Jordan
Arguably the biggest matchup in the game on Sunday will be between Atlanta Falcons right tackle Lamar Holmes and New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan. Holmes is in his first year starting for the Falcons while Jordan is playing his first year in Rob Ryan's 3-4 defense.
Using a unique unbalanced front and heavy blitz percentages, Ryan will try to attack the Falcons' protections all day, and Jordan will be vital to this. Jordan is a talent who has all the size, strength, speed and technique to have a breakout year this season in the Ryan scheme.
If Jordan can continually win the battle against Holmes, Junior Galette, Parys Haralson and Martez Wilson should have a great day getting pressure on Ryan. However, if Holmes can show a true improvement from the preseason, Matt Ryan won't have to worry as much about the right side.
And knowing how the Falcons like to run screens, that could be the X factor here. If the screens can effectively divert the pass rush away, Holmes should be able to hold up well, but this is a key matchup to watch.
Julio Jones and Roddy White vs. Keenan Lewis and Jabari Greer
Julio Jones and Roddy White are by far the best wide receiver duo in the NFL. They combined for over 2,500 yards last season, which made them almost completely unstoppable. Going against a mediocre pairing of Jabari Greer and Keenan Lewis will only make it easier on them.
Last season, Greer was torched by Atlanta for 137 yards on nine targets on the five catches he gave up. He did get two pass deflections. However, he and Lewis were out of sync in the preseason and had they not been playing some of the weakest competition in the league, it would have been worse.
Rob Ryan's scheme doesn't do the cornerbacks any favors either. He requires strong man coverage and with Jones and White, the Falcons should have a decided advantage, especially when Dirk Koetter calls up some screens to counteract the blitzes.
Add in that Tony Gonzalez is going to be pulling the safety help away from Lewis and Greer, and it's only going to be tougher for the Saints corners to keep up with the Falcons receiving duo.
Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans vs. Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters
The next biggest battle is the interior of the Saints offensive line versus the Falcons interior defensive line. New Orleans looks to have a huge advantage on paper due to the size and technical knowledge of the position that Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans share.
However, Corey Peters and Jonathan Babineaux look much more comfortable in the Mike Nolan defensive scheme this year and could truly break out together now that Peters has been healthy the whole offseason.
Peters and Babineaux are also much bigger than they were the past couple of years. They are both hovering in that 300-to-305-pound range after playing the last couple of seasons in the 290-295-pound range. The added bulk should allow them to hold up better against the massive combination of the Saints.
Add in more interior blitzes that Nolan was showing in the preseason, and the Falcons could end up turning a matchup that was once a big weakness into their greatest strength.
All stats used are either from Pro Football Focus's Premium Stats, ESPN, CFBStats or the NFL. All contract information is courtesy of Spotrac and Rotoworld. All recruiting rankings come from 247Sports.com.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.
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