Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 11/9/12
I've been saying it all year - the Saints are cursed for 2012.The loss of Sean Payton, because of charges that the league has yet to fully prove, has hit the Saints very hard, but the Saints are officially back. Last week, the Saints rushed more than 25 times, and for more than 100 yards, for only the second time all season (the first time was in the fluky loss to Carolina). Admittedly, it came against the Eagles, who play their defensive line too wide for their own good, but it was progress. The Saints have a three-headed monster in the backfield, even with Darren Sproles down (Chris Ivory has been stepping up since the Super Bowl season, when he started in multiple games down the stretch). They can run the ball effectively, but only if the coaches don't give up on the run game.Fun fact: the Falcons are 25th in the league against the run, allowing 127.5 yards per game. The Saints should be able to capitalize, and repeat last week's performance of 25+ rushes for 125+ yards. If they do, it will take a lot of pressure off Drew Brees and the rest of the offense. An effective ground game forces opposing defenses to stack the box, take defensive backs out of coverage, and leave openings for the deep ball. Devery Henderson is the primary deep threat for the Saints, and should have a big night after the Falcons are forced to stack the box.What's really missing for the Saints is their defense, and the Falcons have some of the best receivers in the league. Julio Jones was the hot ticket in fantasy football this preseason, but Roddy White has been just as effective, and Tony Gonzalez looks like he should come back again next year, no matter what he has said about retiring.New Orleans' pass defense only allowed 231 yards last week, but it wasn't because of their defense.  Michael Vick completed 77.8 percent of his passes, the best percentage the Saints have allowed all year, and had a 128.2 passer rating, the second best the Saints have allowed this year. Matt Ryan isn't as much of a running threat, but he is a far better passer, and has better weapons.  Ryan will shred the Saints' defense for 400 yards and 3 TDs in an effort to quiet the Superdome and force the Saints to abandon the ground game.This game is set up for a shootout in New Orleans, but it's also the biggest threat to the Falcons' unbeaten record until Week 15. The Falcons will be pumped and ready for everything the Saints have, just as the Saints will be pumped to break their rival's winning streak. A game like this comes down to a last second play, and this just isn't the Saints' year. The Falcons will win with a heroic final drive, 31-28.Special bonus prediction: If the Falcons do win this game, they will reach 13-0 and clinch home field because of a Chicago slump, just as the Saints did in 2009.  The author does not believe that the conservative Mike Smith will try for an unbeaten record, and will rest his players in Weeks 16 and 17 before making a run at the Super Bowl. 
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