The New Orleans Saints (6-8) and Atlanta Falcons (5-9) have been two of the most disappointing teams in the NFL, but both still have a chance to end 2014 as division champs. The rivals will face off inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in Week 16, as they battle for the NFC South title.
Holding sole possession of first place, New Orleans controls their own destiny. With a half-game lead over the Carolina Panthers (5-8-1), a win for the Saints and a loss for the Panthers would put New Orleans into the playoffs, eliminating Carolina and Atlanta from contention.
The Falcons are also in control of their own fate, despite their third-place status. Week 16 wins for Atlanta and Carolina would put the Panthers in first place, but the two teams are set to meet in the regular-season finale. Earlier wins over New Orleans and Carolina have helped give Atlanta a perfect divisional record, and gives them the tiebreaker in the NFC South.
Atlanta defeated New Orleans, 37-34, in the first game of the season. Matt Ryan posted, what’s turned out to be, a season-high with 448 passing yards, completing 31 of his 43 attempts for three touchdowns and no interceptions. Julio Jones led all players with 116 receiving yards, and he’s gone on to rank second in the league with 1,428 yards.
Ryan has had some big games, posting a 155.9 passer rating in Week 3 and tossing three touchdown passes on four different occasions. He’s also thrown an interception in each of the last four games, of which the Falcons have only won one.
New Orleans has been an enigma for much of the season. The Saints entered the season as an NFC dark horse to reach the Super Bowl. After losing four of their first six games, they’ve gone on to defeat playoff teams like the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers, while still falling to losing teams.
The biggest surprise has been the Saints’ home record. The team had been known for owning one of the best home-field advantages in the NFL, going undefeated in the Superdome in 2011 and 2013. In Week 16, the Saints are looking to avoid a fifth straight home loss.
While the Saints have not been dominant at home, the Falcons are still bad on the road. Atlanta has won just two of seven games away from the Georgia Dome, and they’ve gone 0-5 as road underdogs. Ryan has a 107.2 passer rating at home this season, compared to an 86.2 passer rating on the road.
Drew Brees is coming off one of his best games in 2014, having completed 80.6 percent of his passes for 375 yards and three touchdowns. The eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback hasn’t been as good as he was last year, but he should have an easier time putting up big numbers on Sunday. Allowing 292.5 passing yards per game, the Falcons rank last in pass defense.
Atlanta’s inability to stop opponents has been their Achilles heel all season long. Their 26.4 points allowed per game is tied for 26th in the league, and they’ve surrendered at least 27 points in half of their games. The over/under of 56 points is the highest in Week 16.
The Saints are six-point favorites at home, according to the latest Las Vegas betting odds. Seven of Atlanta’s nine losses have come by at least six points, and New Orleans has won five games by a minimum of six points.
Prediction: New Orleans over Atlanta, 31-20