New Orleans Saints vs. Atlanta Falcons Pick & Prediction JANUARY 7th 2024

For a chance at the playoffs, the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints need a win Sunday.

But a victory in their NFC South showdown in New Orleans won’t be enough.

Either team would also need the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to lose at Carolina in order to win the division. The Saints (8-8) could claim a wild card if they and the Bucs win and Green Bay and Seattle both lose, but the Falcons (7-9) can only get in by winning the division.

Innumerable variables are in play with a whopping 20 of the NFL’s 32 teams still alive entering Week 18.

“None of that other stuff matters if we don’t take care of business against Atlanta,” Saints head coach Dennis Allen said. “We’ve got to keep the main thing the main thing. There’s not going to be a lot of scoreboard watching. We have enough to deal with in Atlanta and what they’re doing.”

New Orleans kept its playoff hopes alive and prevented the Bucs from clinching the division title when it won at Tampa 23-13 last Sunday. The Falcons, who lost at Chicago 37-17 in Week 17, defeated the Saints 24-15 on Nov. 26 in Atlanta.

Atlanta, which ranks eighth in the NFL in rushing (130.1 yards per game), had the most rushing yards by a New Orleans opponent (228) in the first meeting. The Falcons’ 41 attempts were the most by a Saints opponent this season and their average (5.6) was the second highest.

“We understand the type of game it’s going to be,” Allen said. “We know how they want the game to be played. They do a really good job in the running game. We have to do a better job of stopping the run.”

The Falcons were effective when they ran the ball against the Bears last week (5.6 yards per carry), but they finished with just 24 rushes because Chicago took the lead for good midway through the first quarter and possessed the ball for more than 37 minutes, forcing the Falcons into comeback mode.

Head coach Arthur Smith said he has confidence that his team will bounce back from its most lopsided loss of the season.

“The way these guys play and prepare has been consistent all year,” Smith said. “Every game these guys have shown up ready to roll and we’ve had our chances. They’re a resilient group.”

Before the loss to the Bears, Atlanta’s previous six losses were one-score games. The first meeting with the Falcons was one of just two Saints losses that have been by more than one score.

“We’ve lost some close games and most games are close in this league,” Smith said. “Anytime we play New Orleans, it’s a big deal. Certainly, this game has a lot on the line. I know some of it is out of our control, but that’s our own doing.

“We have life. However crazy it played out, that is what the situation is.”

The Falcons deemed quarterback Taylor Heinicke (ankle) questionable after he was limited in practice each day this week. Desmond Ridder would start if Heinicke cannot.

Cornerback Mike Hughes (concussion) and defensive end Zach Harrison (knee) are also questionable, while center Drew Dalman (ankle), linebacker Troy Andersen (pectoral) and safety DeMarcco Hellams (concussion) were ruled out.

Saints running back Alvin Kamara will be a game-time decision, Allen said, after Kamara did not practice all week due to a sprained ankle.

New Orleans ruled out tackle Landon Young (knee) and safety Lonnie Johnson (knee) against Atlanta. Joining Kamara as questionable are running back Kendre Miller (ankle, illness), wide receiver A.T. Perry (illness), tight end Juwan Johnson (chest), defensive end Payton Turner (toe), defensive tackle Khalen Saunders (concussion) and safety J.T. Gray (illness).

–Field Level Media

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