Week 3 of the NFL season brings us a big game in the NFC South, as the Atlanta Falcons host the New Orleans Saints. Kickoff is set for 1:00 EST on Sunday, September 23, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Fans in local markets will be able to watch the game on Fox.
The Falcons are listed as 3-point favorites at home, down slightly after Atlanta opened favored by 3.5 points. The game has an over/under of 53 points. Click here to see a full list of this week’s betting odds in the NFL.
Both teams enter this game at 1-1. The Falcons were disappointed at not being able to close out a win against the Eagles in Week 1. But they were able to bounce back with an important division win against the Panthers last week. The Atlanta defense gave up some yardage and points in the 2nd half, but that was a byproduct of playing with a lead. The good news is that their offense looked sharp after struggling to find consistency in Week 1.
The Saints, meanwhile, should consider themselves lucky to have survived their usual early-season malaise at 1-1. New Orleans was shocked by Tampa the opening week of the season and were fortunate to beat the Browns last week after Cleveland missed two PATs and two field goals. The Saints have been lackluster at best through the first two weeks, and with four of their next five games on the road, they better snap out of it fast.
Even in Week 3, this is a critical divisional game for both teams. With the Bucs jumping out to a 2-0 start, all four teams in the NFC South could end up being threats to reach the playoffs this season. The loser of this game will fall to 1-2 and could potentially be two games out of first place before the end of September. In short, both teams need this game.
These two teams have split their last 10 meetings, so it’s not a stretch to say that this game could go either way. However, the Falcons have won 10 of their last 12 division games straight up, including last week’s win over Carolina. With the Saints sluggish at the start of the season, I feel a lot more confident in swallowing the three points and leaning toward the Falcons in this matchup.
New Orleans is relying far too much on Drew Brees right now. To be fair, that’s not always a problem, especially with how brilliant Brees has been, completing 81% of his passes with five touchdowns and no interceptions. However, the rest of the team is not giving him enough support, which is why the Saints have lost one game and were lucky not to lose their other.
The Saints are struggling to stay balanced offensively with Mark Ingram suspended for the first four games. Alvin Kamara has not been productive as the feature back, totaling just 75 yards over two games. New Orleans skill players have also lost four fumbles this season, including two by star receiver Michael Thomas. To make matters worse, the Saints are a little banged up along the offensive line.
Obviously, Brees and the Saints still present a huge challenge for the Atlanta defense. However, the Falcons have done a good job of bending but not breaking this year. As mentioned, most of the points they gave up against Carolina last week came when they were leading by two touchdowns. The Falcons have also been solid against the run in their first two games. If they can keep that up, it’ll once again be all on Brees to carry the Saints.
On the other side of the ball, the New Orleans defense has been a disaster this season. Let’s be honest, holding the Browns to 18 points isn’t that impressive, especially when Cleveland left eight points on the field in the form of missed kicks. The Saints were also torched by Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Tampa Bay offense in Week 1, which raised some serious red flags.
To be fair, the Bucs have some great skill players, but so do the Falcons. Julio Jones has started the season strong while rookie Calvin Ridley started to breakout last week. Those two guys are both deep threats who are capable of burning the Saints. The Falcons were also productive running the ball last week, even without Devonta Freeman, who may or may not be healthy enough to play this week. If the New Orleans defense can’t show improvement from what we’ve seen the past couple of weeks, they’ll struggle to stop the Falcons.
In the end, both teams will score, but I have a lot more faith in the Atlanta defense being able to get stops or create takeaways. I’m also not that worried about the spread. These are two teams that think about scoring touchdowns, not field goals. I think the Falcons will win much like they won last week, playing with the lead most of the game and doing enough defensively to hold on. I like the Falcons to win by at least a touchdown and cover the spread.