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When Atlanta Has the Ball:
Matt Ryan has an explosive group of players on his offense, all ready to attack the Saints' defense. The match-up of Julio Jones and Roddy White against the New Orleans defense will be worth the wait to Monday night.
Ryan has to stay clean and on his feet this week. When protected, Ryan is an elite quarterback. Will Svitek has played well at left tackle in replacing Sam Baker, which bodes well for Ryan. The Saints' aren't known for their great players on defense, but the scheme and execution are solid.
The Saints have to know the Falcons can and will move the ball. The game plan should focus on creating turnovers and hoping Brees can outscore Ryan.
When New Orleans Has the Ball:
This should be the week that Drew Brees passes Dan Marino as the all-time single-season passing leader. Impressive stuff, but meaningless if the Saints can't win this game to keep their chances for the No. 2 seed in the NFC alive. Brees would tell you records mean little in the here and now. It's all about winning.
Brees gets a ton of credit, as he should, but it's the run game of the Saints that impresses me most. Even with guards Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans having down seasons, the Saints are able to get into a rhythm running the ball and can steamroll a defense.
Atlanta will look to counter the run game with their speed on defense and their girth up front. Corey Peters and Jonathan Babineaux need monster games to hold off the interior of the Saints' line. If they can hold their ground, Curtis Lofton and Sean Weatherspoon have the speed and vision to make plays and shut down the Saints' offense.
One player who makes a world of difference is Brent Grimes. Without Grimes, the Falcons' defense is very different. They need him back this week.
Prediction: Atlanta 31, New Orleans 30