For the fourth consecutive season, the Atlanta Falcons open the season on the road, and there’s no better way to get the season started than to face the Falcons’ most hated rival in the New Orleans Saints.
The emotion will be high in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome with the return of head coach Sean Payton, who was notoriously suspended for the entire 2012 season. Since Payton became head coach in 2006, the Saints have posted an 10-2 record against the Falcons.
On the flip side, since Falcons head coach Mike Smith was hired in 2008, he has posted a 2-6 record against the Payton-led Saints.
Getting a victory in New Orleans would show Atlanta is serious about reaching the Super Bowl. With that said, a loss wouldn’t mean the season’s over for the Falcons. Ultimately, this is an early statement game for both teams.
Last season in the Superdome, the 3-5 Saints ended the Falcons’ undefeated streak at 8-0 with a 31-27 victory. The last time the Falcons won in New Orleans was Week 3 of the 2010 season – a 27-24 win in overtime.
In a move that should make an already potent passing attack even deadlier, the Atlanta signed Steven Jackson. He’s an upgrade over Michael Turner, and his ability to catch the football out the backfield should open up things more for Tony Gonzalez, Julio Jones, and Roddy White.
With an abundance of weapons, Matt Ryan should have no problem spreading the ball around against a Saints defense that ranked 31st in defending the pass last season. Also working against the Saints defense is the scheme switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
Just as the Falcons offense should be able to score at will, the Saints offense should be able to do the same on the Falcons defense. Expect Drew Brees to pick on rookie Desmond Trufant, who gets the start at right corner for the Falcons.
Atlanta added Osi Umenyiora to help bolster the pass rush but lost John Abraham. It’s mostly a lateral replacement unless the younger pass rushers show up. Last season, the Falcons notched just 29 sacks as a team.
This game will be a shootout. It may be the homer in me, but I think Atlanta ends up with the victory. This team has serious Super Bowl aspirations, and once they weather the initial emotion that will come with Payton’s return, it will be smooth sailing from there.