Off to their best start in three years, the Atlanta Falcons can pad their NFC South lead and potentially bury the rival New Orleans Saints in “Thursday Night Football’s” Week 6 matchup at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
With quarterback Matt Ryan committing three turnovers and receiver Julio Jones kept in check for the second straight week, Atlanta escaped with a 25-19 victory over Washington off Robert Alford’s 59-yard interception returned for a touchdown in overtime.
The win vaulted the Falcons to 5-0 for the first time since 2012. It also marked the Falcons third victory by less than a touchdown this season, and also proved they don’t necessarily need Jones and Ryan to hookup to win games and that the defense can make plays down the stretch.
Ryan tossed two picks and lost one fumble, and his 254 yards passing and 55.1 rating were his lowest of the season. Meanwhile, Jones pulled down five receptions for 67 yards -- his second consecutive game without 100 receiving yards and a touchdown.
But the Falcons, who were No. 24 in rushing a year ago, relied on second-year running back Devonta Freeman’s 153 yards and a touchdown off 27 attempts. Freeman’s scored all of his NFL-best eight touchdowns in the last four games, and is sixth in the league with 81 yards per game.
Limiting Washington to 270 total offensive yards, the defense has made tremendous strides under first-year head coach Dan Quinn. Atlanta now ranks No. 1 in the league with 78.4 rushing yards allowed per game and is tied for fifth with 10 takeaways.
Atlanta appears to have playmakers all over the field, which could spell trouble for a 1-4 Saints squad uncharacteristically struggling on offense. With Drew Brees at quarterback, New Orleans put up a season-low 17 points in their loss to Philadelphia in Week 5, and are averaging just 20.6 points a game.
Plagued by seven penalties for a loss of 78 yards and four total turnovers, the Saints are in the midst of their worst start since 2012 when head coach Sean Payton was suspended for the entire season for “Bountygate.”
Brees has largely played well with 1,304 passing yards, but has launched only six touchdowns to three interceptions, while the ground game is 29th in the NFL with only 85.4 yards per contest. Running back Mark Ingram’s totaled 261 yards and two scores on the ground, and has served better as Brees' third-option with 24 receptions for 220 yards.
However, the 36-year-old Brees has traditionally torched Atlanta. He owns a career-best 13-6 record against the Falcons, with 5,786 yards, 36 touchdowns, and a 67.2 completion rate.
Defensively, the Saints can’t seem to keep it together for a full four quarters. As a unit its allowed 28.6 points a game, 29th in the league, and it hasn’t given Brees more opportunities to score with only five turnovers forced in five games.
Betting odds: Atlanta -3.5 points
Over/under: 51 points
Prediction: Atlanta over New Orleans, 30-20