Opponent: New Orleans Saints
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta
Time: 1 p.m.
TVannouncers: FOX, Kenny Albert (play-by-play), Daryl Johnston (analyst) and Tony Siragusa (sideline)
Point Spread (Danny Sheridan's odds as published in USA Today): It's a "pick em" game with an over of 49 12
Key Offensive Match-up: With two-time Pro-Bowl middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma (knee) out for the Saints, the Falcons could take advantage of an edge in the running game. Four-year man Jo-Lonn Dunbar, sliding over from the strong side, will take Vilma's place. A re-shuffled blocking scheme with center Joe Hawley making his second start at right guard in place of demoted Garrett Reynolds, and fullback Michael Cox, in his second game for the Falcons, will be keys. Cox replaces 2010 Pro-Bowler Ovie Mughelli, who suffered a season-ending knee injury. If Michael Turner, the NFL's seventh-leading rusher, nears the 100-yard threshold, then the Falcons will have an excellent chance to win.
Key Defensive Match-up: Saints quarterback Drew Brees is the NFL's leading passer with 3,004 yards. If the Falcons fail to sack or intercept Brees, he will destroy them. Falcons head coach Mike Smith said he wants to collapse the Saints' pocket from the interior, meaning the Falcons need big games from defensive tackles Corey Peters and Jonathan Babineaux as they go up against guards Carl Nicks (343 pounds) and Jahri Evans (318 pounds), whom Smith called two of the league's best. On the outside, Jermon Bushrod is an excellent left tackle, posing a challenge for John Abraham. Abraham and fellow defensive end Ray Edwards will have to win their share of the battles. Don't be surprised to see linebacker Sean Weatherspoon on his share of blitzes. The Falcons must get the elusive Brees on the ground when they have their chances because the secondary cannot cover for an extended period against the Saints' talented receiving corps.
Special Teams: In Darren Sproles, the Saints have one of the league's most dangerous return men. In the season opener against Green Bay, Sproles returned two punts for 92 yards including a touchdown. The Saints' offense is potent enough. The Falcons cannot afford to give New Orleans good field position or a special teams score. Falcons rookie Matt Bosher, who handles punts and kickoffs, has improved lately, especially in downing punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line. He will have to do a better job in terms of generating touchbacks on kickoffs.
Injuries: For the Falcons, starting left tackle Sam Baker is out; starting safety William Moore (quadracep) is doubtful. Will Svitek is in for Baker and veteran James Sanders for Moore, if he cannot go. For New Orleans, linebacker Vilma is out, as is defensive end Turk McBride.
Inactive: For Falcons: Baker, Moore, CB Darrin Walls, LB Spencer Adkins, C Brett Romberg, DE Cliff Matthews, DT Carlton Powell. For Saints, Vilma, RB Chris Ivory, McBride, CB Patrick Robinson, T Ray Willis, WR Adrian Arrington, RB Korey Hall.