Opponent: New Orleans Saints
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans
Time: 1 p.m.
Records: Falcons (8-0, 1-0 in NFC South); Saints (3-5, 1-1).
Point Spread (Danny Sheridans odds as published in USA Today): Atlanta is favored by 2 with an over of 54.
Key Offensive Matchup: The Falcons offense might have transformed itself into a more pass-oriented and explosive one, but when you play the Saints its still best to possess the ball and keep it away from their still-potent offense especially with New Orleans having such an awful run defense. The Saints have the worst run defense in the NFL, allowing opponents 176.5 yards per game. Expect the Falcons, whose running game has improved the last few weeks since the bye and are almost averaging 100 yards per game (98.5), to make the most of that situation. For Saints middle linebacker Curtis Lofton, who played for the Falcons for his first four seasons and was allowed to depart via free agency this past offseason, that is a particular humiliation. The Falcons-Saints rivalry always is heated, but expect Lofton to spice it up a little more this week. Look for a possible scrum or two after the whistle between him and the Falcons offensive linemen, who have been known for their physical play that extends, as their former position coach put it, to the echo of the whistle.
Key Defensive Matchup: Whenever the Falcons play the Saints its about containing quarterback Drew Brees. Brees is minus one dangerous weapon in running back Darren Sproles, which should benefit the Falcons. Likewise, the Falcons are without starting outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (ankle), one of their top defenders, for a second straight week. Last week in their 19-13 win over Dallas, the Falcons received their best performance of the season from middle linebacker Akeem Dent, a first-year starter who played all of the snaps on defense for only the second time this season. While Dallas might have entered the game with the NFLs No. 3 passing attack, going against the Saints is an entirely different ballgame. Brees recognizes weaknesses and if Dent is not on his game, both calling the signals and being in the right position, Brees will exploit him. For their part, the Falcons defensive line will need to at least pressure Brees, if not hit and sack him often. In the past, the Falcons have gotten free runners on Brees only to see him elude the rush and complete big passes. New coordinator Mike Nolan cannot afford to let that happen and his complex blitzes will have to do their best to get at Brees.
Inactive: For Atlanta: quarterback Dominique Davis, wide receiver Kevin Cone, safety Charles Mitchell, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, guard Phillipkeith Manley, tackle Lamar Holmes, defensive tackle Travian Robertson; for New Orleans, wide receiver Courtney Roby, running back Darren Sproles, cornerback Elbert Mack, linebacker Scott Shanle, tackle Zach Strief, defensive tackle Tyrunn Walker, defensive end Junior Galette.