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Five things to look for in Saints at Falcons

Here we are, week 17, the final regular season game of the year. I have to admit, when I saw Saints at Falcons week 17 when the schedule was first released – I thought the stakes would be much higher. I thought this could be for a playoff spot or maybe even the division title. Instead, both teams are eliminated from the postseason and it’s virtually meaningless. Meaningless except for the fact that it’s the Saints bitter rival and it’s an opportunity to end the season on a high note. It’s also an opportunity to sweep the Falcons this season. That might be worth hijacking a team’s draft status, just saying. Here’s five things I’m looking for:

1. Historical head to head

The Falcons lead the all time series 49-44, but that includes one playoff victory. Removing the playoff victory, it’s 48-44 Falcons in regular season wins. Not only is this a season sweep opportunity, it’s an opportunity to cut their historical edge in the regular season to 48-45. And I don’t want to get ahead of myself here, but it would mean it’s possible for the Saints to take the lead in the series as soon as 2017 with a couple more sweeps. So that’s a big reason why I want a win here. You may not think it’s that big of a deal, but the series was 43-30 Falcons before Sean Payton came to New Orleans. Since then, the Saints have enjoyed a 14-5 edge. It could be 15-5 with a win Sunday. It’s amazing how much the Saints have cut into the Falcons’ big lead and I never thought I’d see in my lifetime the Saints get this close head to head with the Falcons. This is an important one to win based on that.

2. Breaux vs. Julio

Julio Jones was banged up when he played the Saints last but he finished with 6 catches for 93 yards and no scores on 10 targets. That might seem like a good game, but he struggled the times he faced Delvin Breaux in coverage. Here’s a little excerpt from a Mike Triplett ESPN article to recap the matchup which Breaux clearly won:

Jones finished with six catches for 93 yards. But after reviewing the tape, Jones appeared to catch only one of those passes for five yards when Breaux was in true man coverage against him (Pro Football Focus credited Breaux with two catches allowed for 20 yards).

Payton brought up Breaux’s name unsolicited after the game, saying he was “outstanding.”

“I’m pretty impressed with his technique,” ESPN analyst and former NFL safety Matt Bowen said. “That’s the first thing that jumps out. He does a good job of using his hands and staying square to the wide receiver. Sounds basic, but you would be surprised how many NFL DBs are struggling with that right now. That’s why he can line up vs. a guy like Julio.

Jones leads the NFL in receptions (127) and yards (1,722) and Breaux has been one of the only cover guys all season long that has slowed him down. Again, though, Jones came into that game banged up, so it’s fair to ask how much that played a part. Watching this matchup again is going to be really interesting.

3. Other games and how it impacts draft placement

If you’ve been reading the Saints Nation twitter account you know I’m lobbying hard for a win over the Falcons at the possible expense better of a draft pick slot. That doesn’t mean I’m not interested in how it all plays out, though. The Saints can pick as high as 9 with a loss and as low as 16 with a win depending on how other teams do. If the Saints lose, then you really want the Giants and Bucs to win so they can get up to 9. If the Saints win, then you want Eagles, Bills and Raiders to win too. The result of the Bears/Lions game will impact the Saints only in who drafts in front of them if they win. Expect updates throughout the game on how things are looking.

4. Last game for some veterans?

There’s a lot of guys who might be playing their last game with the Saints, like every year, but an especially high number of veterans who’s future in uncertain. Drew Brees, Kevin Williams, Marques Colston (listed as out), Zach Strief, Jahri Evans, Thomas Morstead (I think he comes back but you never know with the contract), David Hawthorne, Dannell Ellerbe (listed as out)… Those are just a few names of guys that have meant something to this team over the years and might not come back. I realize that doesn’t apply to Williams and Ellerbe entirely as they’ve only been with the team a year, but both have positive contributions in the locker room in 2015. Of the 8 guys I just listed I think it’s safe to say at least half won’t return. Colston especially seems like a foregone conclusion and I’m really going to miss that guy. Let’s all try to enjoy this contribution from these guys because there’s a decent chance it could be their last in black and gold.

5. Season milestones

There’s a few stats, both good and bad, that are worth paying attention to. Brees needs 453 yards passing to hit 5,000 (despite missing a game this year). His rating is at 100.7 so he’ll need a good game to stay above 100. Brandin Cooks needs one touchdown for 10 on the season. Willie Snead needs 51 receiving yards to hit 1,000 for the season. Kenny Vaccaro needs two tackles to hit 100 for the season. Cam Jordan needs one sack to hit 10 for the year. The Saints currently give up a rating of 117.1 to opposing quarterbacks which will be an NFL record unless they hold the Falcons to a quarterback rating of about 10.0. It depends on the number of passes but roughly the math says the only way they WON’T break the record is if the Falcons throw a pick on pretty much every play.