'Thursday Night Football' schedule, picks, time: Your Saints-Falcons need to know
The Saints aren't just the best team in the NFC South, they're one of the best teams in the NFL
Here's the good news: Heading into Week 14 of the 2016 season, the Falcons had the same record they do now: 7-5. They went on a six-game winning streak that looked to be seven games right up until the moment the Patriots woke up late in the third quarter of Super Bowl LI.
But for the Falcons, there is no Super Bowl hangover. Yes, they needed some time to get comfortable in an offense not led by Kyle Shanahan, and they appear to have done that. And before you point to last Sunday's 14-9 loss to the Vikings, we'd just remind you that the Vikings might be the best team in the NFC -- . So now the question becomes: Can Atlanta replicate their success from last December?
After the Saints, the remaining regular-season schedule includes at Tampa Bay, at New Orleans and Carolina. That's four division games and three really tough matchups. As it stands, the Saints (9-3) are the No. 4 seed in the NFC playoff race and the Seahawks (8-4) and Panthers (8-4) have the fifth- and sixth spots.
The Falcons (7-5) are the No. 7 seed, a game clear of the Lions, Packers and Cowboys (all 6-6). Put another way: This is little room for error and Thursday night as as must-win as must-win games go. This reality is lost on no one.
"They're playing really well, doing really well right now," nose tackle Grady Jarrett said of the Saints, via ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure. "I mean, [Brees] is one of the best quarterbacks to ever do it, without a doubt. And they've got some really good running backs and good receivers. So it's definitely going to be a challenge. But we're looking forward to it.
"Everything we want, we just got to fight for it."
On the other side of the ball, Matt Ryan is well aware of a Saints' defense that went from 31st last season to 11th in 2017, and is as responsible for the team's turnaround as anything the offense has accomplished.
"I think they're doing a good job up front," Ryan said of a unit that features veteran Cam Jordan and rookie Marshon Lattimore. "Their front four has been really solid against the run. They've also done a good job in terms of creating pass rush. Got some new players in the secondary that have done a good job for them this year. They had some injuries the last couple of weeks, but when you watch them throughout the year, they've done a nice job in the secondary."
It's unclear if Lattimore, who is battling an ankle injury, will play on Thursday but that doesn't make things any less daunting for Ryan, who is 7-10 against Brees and the Saints.
"It's always tough playing New Orleans," Ryan continued. "They're very well-coached. They're playing great this year. Obviously, their record proves that. You know these games are going to come down to the end of the game, last possession. Most of the time, at least throughout my career, it's been that way. ... I'm sure the Benz will be rocking on Thursday night."
To read about the Saints, who will face the Falcons on Thursday night,.
About that 'rocking' Mercedes-Benz Stadium...
Ah yes, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Falcons' shiny new home where they're just 3-3 in the inaugural season. Head coach Dan Quinn is imploring fans to show up on Thursday night and make a lot of noise. He also has a handy permission slip for any of the 71,000 who might be late to work on Friday.
Seriously, Cam Jordan is an MVP candidate
Jordan would never win it but that has nothing to do with the numbers he has put up this season and everything to do with the fact that he doesn't play quarterback. Consider this: He's trying to accomplish so freakishly incredible that we can't remember anyone previously considering it. "I'm trying to get this triple-double," Jordan said, via ESPN.com's Mike Triplett, of his 10 sacks, 13 tackles for loss and his 6-8 passes defended (based on who eventually gets credit from last Sunday's win over the Panthers).
"I'm trying to Euro step my way to a NBA number," he said, adding, "I don't know a defensive end who's doing what I'm doing."
Not surprisingly, Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen is a big fan.
"I think he's the best all-around defensive end in the National Football League," Allen said. "I think too many times people just pick up the stat sheet or look at the fantasy football stats, and all everybody ever wants to look at is, 'How many sacks does a guy have?' But what Cam Jordan brings to the table is way more than that for us and the defense.
"He's constantly a pressure player, he plays relentless, he plays a ton of snaps. He plays the run and the pass equally well. I just think as far as all-around defensive ends, I think you're hard-pressed to find anybody that's better than him."
Dispatches from Fantasy Island
If you missed the latest personnel news for your fantasy lineups,:
Mark Ingram (toe) was held out of practice Tuesday
The Saints didn't practice Monday, but listed Ingram with a toe injury. Since we hadn't heard about it prior, we assumed it was just a minor issue. Now? This is officially a concern.
Ingram was spotted on the field during stretching and conditioning, but was listed as a non-participant on the official practice report. This might be less of a concern if not for the Saints' Thursday night matchup against the Falcons. As things stand, Ingram has just one day of practice left to prove to Fantasy players he is healthy enough to trust in this pivotal game.
If Ingram can't play, Alvin Kamara might be the No. 1 running back on every experts' board this week, but we should still hold out hope for Ingram. There is plenty of room for both to succeed in the backfield; both have been top-five backs this season. Keep a close eye on reports out of Saints' practice Wednesday to see if Ingram's status improves.
They said it
Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara or Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, who ya got? Freeman, who rushed for over 1,000 yards last season and has 589 yards through 10 games in 2017, wants no part of that question.
"Man, I'm not going to sit up here and start talking about which running back combo is the best," he said, via ESPN.com. "It's not about that. It's about us doing us. That's what we can worry about. But Kamara and Ingram, they're doing their thing. They're very talented. I give them plenty of credit."
Who ya got?
Four of six CBSSports.com experts not only like the Falcons to cover at 1.5-point home underdogs, they're picking the Falcons to win outright.
"If the Falcons are to have any chance to win the division, they have to win here. They didn't look good on offense last week against the Vikings, but they will get the offense back on track. The Saints will keep up as well with Drew Brees. I expect a shootout like a lot of games between these two. Enjoy the fireworks." -- Pete Prisco, who has Atlanta winning, 31-27
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