5 things to know before today’s Saints at Falcons’ kickoff

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 24:  Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons runs the ball against the Carolina Panthers in the 3rd quarter during their game at Bank of America Stadium on December 24, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

CHARLOTTE, NC – DECEMBER 24: Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons runs the ball against the Carolina Panthers in the 3rd quarter during their game at Bank of America Stadium on December 24, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Here are 5 things to mull over before today’s 4:25 p.m. kickoff between the New Orleans Saints (7-8) and the NFC South Champion Atlanta Falcons (10-5) at the Georgia Dome.

1. NFC PLAYOFF PRIMER: Here’s a look at the NFC playoff picture:

NFC

CLINCHED: Dallas – NFC East division title and home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs

Atlanta – NFC South division title

Seattle – NFC West division title

New York Giants – playoff berth

ATLANTA FALCONS (10-5) (vs. New Orleans (7-8), Sunday, 4:25 PM ET)

Atlanta clinches a first-round bye with:

  1. ATL win OR
  2. ATL tie + SEA loss or tie OR
  3. SEA loss + DET loss or tie OR
  4. SEA tie + DET loss

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (9-5-1) (at San Francisco (2-13), Sunday, 4:25 PM ET)

Seattle clinches a first-round bye with:

  1. SEA win + ATL loss or tie OR
  2. SEA tie + ATL loss + GB/DET tie

DETROIT LIONS (9-6) (vs. Green Bay (9-6), Sunday night, 8:30 PM ET)

Detroit clinches NFC North division title with:

  1. DET win

Detroit clinches a first-round bye with:

  1. DET win + SEA loss or tie + ATL loss

Detroit clinches a playoff berth with:

  1. DET tie OR
  2. WAS loss or tie

GREEN BAY PACKERS (9-6) (at Detroit (9-6), Sunday night, 8:30 PM ET)

Green Bay clinches NFC North division title with:

  1. GB win or tie    — Green Bay clinches a playoff berth with:
  1. WAS loss OR
  2. WAS tie + TB win + GB clinches at least a tie in strength of victory tiebreaker over TB

(Note: GB clinches at least a tie in strength of victory tiebreaker over TB if one of the following teams win or tie: SEA, HOU, JAX, PHI. GB has already clinched strength of schedule tiebreaker over TB in this scenario.)

WASHINGTON REDSKINS (8-6-1) (vs. New York Giants (10-5), Sunday, 4:25 PM ET)

Washington clinches a playoff berth with:

  1. WAS win + GB-DET game does not end in a tie OR
  2. WAS tie + GB loss + TB loss or tie

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (8-7) (vs. Carolina (6-9), Sunday, 1:00 PM ET)

Tampa Bay clinches a playoff berth with:

  1. TB win + WAS tie + GB loss + TB clinches strength of victory tiebreaker over GB

(Note: TB clinches strength of victory tiebreaker over GB if all of the following teams win: TEN, IND, DAL and SF)

2. REVIEW OF GAME ONE: The Falcons defeated the Saints 45-32 on Sept. 26, 2016 on Monday Night football. Rookie linebacker Deion Jones sealed the victory with a 90-yard interception return in the fourth quarter.

Running back Devonta Freeman ran for a season-high 152 yards on 14 carries as the Falcons amassed 217 yards rushing. He also led the Falcons with five receptions for 55 yards receiving.

Here’s the REPORT CARD from the first meeting: Falcons earn high marks for drubbing Saints.

3. 3 KEY MATCHUPS: Here are three key matchups:

Saints RT Zach Strief vs. Falcons LB Vic Beasley: Strief, who’s in his 11th season, continues to block at a high level in pass protection. He was listed as the NFL’s top right tackle halfway through the season and his play hasn’t slipped. “He’s playing well,” Falcons defensive coordinator Richard Smith said. Beasley has turned into a force in his second season in the league with 14.5 sacks. He uses his speed and a combination of moves to break free either around the edge or up the middle off stunts.

Saints WR Michael Thomas vs. Falcons CB Jalen Collins: Thomas, after a slow start, has played well in the Saints’ vaunted passing attack. He leads the team with 82 catches. Thomas also has 891 yards and eight touchdowns. Collins has taken over for injured Pro Bowler Desmond Trufant and has played well in man-to-man coverage. He’s also been playing the ball well in the air, dispelling the notion of his lack of instincts for the position. He had his first NFL interception against the Panthers.

Saints LB Nate Stupar vs. Falcons TE Levine Toilolo: The former Falcons reserve linebacker was called “Nasty Nate” for his demeanor on the field. He sets the edge against the run and scrapes off blocks in order to make tackles. He’s played 357 defensive snaps (36.1 percent), mostly against the run. Toilolo has been key to getting the running game going and for occasionally slipping down field for a big play.

4. SERIES RECORD: This will be the 95th meeting between the Falcons and the Saints. The Falcons lead the series, 49-45.

5. TALE OF THE TAPE: 2016 Regular Season Statistics Rankings:

Falcons                                       Saints
33.5 (1)         Points/Game                              29.1 (2)
412.9 (2)       Total Offense                           422.9 (1)
119.1 (7)         Net Rushing Yards/Game   107.3 (18)
293.5 (3)       Net Passing Yards/Game      315.5 (1)
30:13 (18)     Possession Average                 30:59 (7)
24.9 (25)       Opponent Points/Game         27.7 (30)
364.4 (23)     Opponent Total Offense       369.4 (25)
102.7 (16)      Opp. Rushing Yards/Game    98.9 (12)
261.7 (26)      Opp. Passing Yards/Game  270.5 (30)
+10 (3t)          Turnover Differential                 -2 (22)

The AJC’s D. Orlando Ledbetter and Noah Coslov chat about Julio Jones’ situation for week 17, Matt Ryan’s MVP candidacy, and why it’s beneficial for the Falcons to host the Saints on Sunday.

GAME 15: Falcons 33, Panthers 16

5 things we learned from the Falcons win over the Panthers

NFL playoffs: Falcons clinch NFC South title

Third-and-21, no problem for Coleman

What Dan Quinn had to say after the win over the Panthers

GAME 14: Falcons 41, 49ers 13

5 things we learned from the Falcons’ win over the 49ers

What Matt Ryan had to say about the win over the 49ers

PHOTOS: Falcons win over the 49ers

GAME 13: Falcons 42, Rams 14

REPORT CARD: Falcons handled their business against woeful Rams

GAME 12: Chiefs 29, Falcons 28

5 things we learned from the Falcons’ loss to the Chiefs

Falcons still control their playoff destiny

PHOTOS: Falcons have a bad day at the office

Matt Ryan tormented by Berry’s big interceptions

Beasley becomes a double-digit sacker

GAME 11: Falcons 38, Cardinals 19

5 things we learned from the Falcons’ win over the Cardinals

MARK BRADLEY: The Falcons keep getting better as they go

Julio Jones gets calls this time

Taylor Gabriel continues scoring streak in win over Cardinals

Coleman scores TD in return from injury

Falcons’ offensive line ‘stepped up to the task’

GAME 10: Eagles 24, Falcons 15

5 things we learned from the Falcons’ loss to the Eagles

Ryan, offense slowed down to a crawl

Perkins stalls key drive with costly penalty

Defense gets blown of the line of scrimmage

Keanu Neal can expect fine but Falcons’ biggest issue is injuries (Trufant and Tamme)

Falcons go into bye week wrong way — beat up by Eagles

What Dan Quinn had to say after the loss to the Eagles

What Matt Ryan had to say after the loss to the Eagles

What the Falcons had to say after the loss to the Eagles

PHOTOS: Falcons fall to the Eagles

GAME NINE: Falcons 43, Buccaneers 28

5 things we learned from the Falcons’ rout of the Bucs

GAME EIGHT: Falcons 33, Packers 32
 

GAME SEVEN: Chargers 33, Falcons 30 in OT

5 things we learned from the Falcons loss to the Chargers

Dan Quinn’s gamble with house-money backfires

6 penalties ‘unacceptable’ for Falcons offensive line

Philip Rivers confounds Falcons with short passes: ‘He picked us apart’

Matt Ryan’s late-game interception leads to overtime loss

PHOTOS: Chargers rally to beat Falcons

GAME SIX: Seahawks 26, Falcons 24

5 things we learned from the Falcons loss to the Seahawks

MARK BRADLEY: The Falcons didn’t win, but they made one guy believe (me)

MARK BRADLEY: The Falcons got jobbed but did themselves proud

Matt Ryan’s turnovers were costly

What Dan Quinn had to say after the 26-24 loss to Seattle

Seattle slows down Falcons’ running backs Freeman, Coleman

Ryan Schraeder, offensive line rebounds in second half

Julio Jones: ‘It was just a missed call’

What the Falcons had to say after the 26-24 loss to Seattle

What Matt Ryan had to say after the 26-24 loss to Seattle

Richard Sherman non-commital on pass interference non-call

PHOTOS: Falcons at Seahawks in Seattle

GAME FIVE: Falcons 23, Broncos 16

5 things we learned from the Falcons upset of Super Bowl champs

MARK BRADLEY: The Falcons rock a rookie in the Rockies

What Dan Quinn have to say after the win over Denver

Coleman amassed 163 yards to power the offense

Vic Beasley has breakout game with 3.5 sacks

Kemal Ishmael moved to linebacker, led team in tackles

What the Falcons had to say after the win over the Broncos

Photos: Falcons battle the Broncos

GAME FOUR: Falcons 48, Panthers 33

5 things we learned from the Falcons’ 48-33 win over the Panthers

Tweetcap: Falcons 48, Panthers 33

Old pro Freeney shows new trick with Falcons

Falcons’ rookie Neal holds on vs. Olsen

What Julio Jones had to say after the 48-33 win over the Panthers

What Dan Quinn had to say after the 48-33 win over the Panthers

What Matt Ryan had to say after the 48-33 win over the Panthers

Alford battled; Collins to return

Early view in NFC South isn’t what most expected; Falcons on top

GAME THREE: Falcons 45, Saints 32

5 things we learned from the Falcons’ 45-32 win over the Saints

Falcons, Saints protest with unity circle before game

REPORT CARD: Falcons earned high marks for drubbing Saints

What Dan Quinn had to say after the 45-32 win over the Saints

What Matt Ryan had to say after the 45-32 win over the Saints

What the Falcons had to say after the 45-32 win over the Saints

Keanu Neal makes strong debut for Falcons

Falcons’ Deion Jones runs for glory, not survival, in return home

AJC POWER RANKINGS: Falcons best in NFC South?

GAME TWO: Falcons 35, Raiders 28

5 things we learned from the Falcons’ win over the Raiders

Trufant’s heads-up play saves the day

Tight ends help to power offense

Weatherspoon plays strong in first start since 2013

Matthews, Schraeder held Mack sack-less

JEFF SCHULTZ: Falcons put on offensive show and win

What Matt Ryan had to say after beating the Raiders

What Dan Quinn had to say after the win over the Raiders

GAME ONE: Buccaneers 31, Falcons 24

5 things we learned from the Falcons’ loss to the Bucs

No sacks for new-look Falcons pass rush

Julio Jones not worried about his ankle injury

Falcons have a case of the “no-huddle” blues

REPORT CARD: Falcons can’t ‘gift’ opponents 17 points

FILM REVIEW: Beasley missing in action

AJC’S NFL POWER RANKINGS: Where are the Falcons?

Hageman charged is domestic violence case

 


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