Two teams that combined to outscore their opponents by a 74 to 9 point margin last week meet on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium when the Atlanta Falcons host the New Orleans Saints. The Falcons victory over the Las Vegas Raiders, 46-3, was atonement for a season that started with five losses and the firing of their head coach, Dan Quinn.
The Saints trouncing of the Denver Broncos last Sunday, 31-3, was Sean Payton’s eighth straight win as they remain in the driver’s seat for the top seed in the National Football Conference playoffs. The Saints currently have a 9-2 win/loss record, their closest competitors in the NFC are the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks, who are one game back with 8-3 marks. It is worth noting that the Saints last loss, suffered in week three, was against the Packers which gives Aaron Rodgers’ team the tiebreaker for home field advantage over New Orleans.
Okay, so what do we have here?
A Saints squad that got their ninth win of the season on the road last Sunday when their opponent got to the stadium without a quarterback. Something that is known to hamper a team’s ability to win in the NFL. The Broncos were without a field general because backup quarterback Jeff Driskel tested positive for Coronavirus, and he had been in quarterback meetings with the rest of the Broncos who played that position. Namely, Drew Lock, Bret Rypien and Joe Flacco. Those three had to be quarantined by league rule, and that left the quarterbacking responsibilities for the Broncos available for volunteers.
The one chosen to play the position in Denver last week was wide receiver Kendall Hinton, who played quarterback like he was a wide receiver. Hinton completed one of nine passes for 12 yards and threatened the endzone like a gazelle intimidates a lion.
The result was the Saints maintaining their conference top spot with a victory by a four touchdown margin.
Meanwhile, in Atlanta, the Falcons are still in the process of looking to erase their horrible start that got their head coach fired. Atlanta gave up opportunities for wins early in the season like they didn’t want them. In second week action, they had what appeared to be an insurmountable lead against the Dallas Cowboys, until their defense went to sleep and the team forgot the rules on an onside kick and allowed Dallas to gain an improbable one-point victory, 40-39.
The following week, at home against the Chicago Bears, they ended Mitch Trubisky’s run as Chicago’s starting quarterback with a defense that both stopped and scored against him, but then seemed to take the afternoon off after Matt Nagy inserted backup Nick Foles. Somehow, they lost that one too, 30-26. Losses against Green Bay and the Carolina Panthers followed, and team owner Arthur Blank visited one of his Home Depot stores for some demolition tools, which he used on the Falcons staff.
One could note that Dan Quinn’s career as head coach of the Falcons had an apex when he owned a 28-3 third quarter lead in the Super Bowl. But, since that high point, his time in Atlanta was a series of disappointments beginning with that overtime loss to the New England Patriots.
With Quinn out, the Falcons relied on one-time Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Raheem Morris on an interim basis. This might turn into a full time role for Morris, given his team responded to his mentoring with a win over the Minnesota Vikings, 40-23, in the first game after Quinn had left the building.
Headed into Sunday’s game against the Saints, Morris has guided the Falcons to wins in four of six starts. One of those losses was against the Detroit Lions when a would-be victory was erased on a last second touchdown pass by Matthew Stafford which was preceded by an ill-advised touchdown by Todd Gurley.
How can you have an ill-advised TD?
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan had instructed his runner to get the first down and then get down so Atlanta could win the game as the clock ran out with either a TD scored later or short-range field goal. Gurley, instead, scored the touchdown, which left just enough time on the clock for Stafford to direct a length of the field touchdown drive for the Lions 23-22 win.
What was the other Falcons loss with Morris in charge?
It came two weeks ago in New Orleans when the Saints were inspired to play their best in the first game they were forced to go without injured quarterback Drew Brees. On that day, the Falcons opened as a 5½ point road underdog, a number that had been sliced to 3½ on gameday by those thinking the Saints would be at a disadvantage without Brees.
In fact, teams that are forced to play without their starting quarterback often have big efforts in the first game without their established field general. In the Saints case on November 22, the defense denied the Falcons the endzone and they coasted to a 24-9 victory.
Now, after a team wins without their starting quarterback, they often have a let down in their next game because they know they can win without their starter, which takes away the motivation to overcome, and they are still without his skillset.
One might have thought that would have spelled problems for New Orleans last week in the Mile High City, but, without a quarterback on their gameday roster, the Broncos were little more than roadkill. Now the Saints look to win, still without the services of Brees, against the same team they beat with a motivational spike two weeks ago.
The spike is gone, and the Falcons are still in the process of avenging their horrible season start. Which means this, the home team wins this one.
Qoxhi Picks: Atlanta Falcons (+3) over New Orleans Saints