Good morning! Welcome to The Cover 9@9 blog. It’s our weekly blog of nine things at 9 a.m. Wednesday that you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons (7-5). The defending NFC champion Falcons are set to face the New Orleans Saints 9-3 at 8:25 p.m. Thursday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
1. DUNN TO RING OF HONOR: Warrick Dunn is set to be inducted into the Ring of Honor during Thursday’s game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Dunn spent six seasons with the Falcons, rushing for nearly 5,981 yards and 30 touchdowns. He had three consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons from 2004-06 and became part of NFL history in 2006 when he joined Michael Vick as the first RB-QB duo to each rush for 1,000 yards.
He also caught 204 passes for 1,635 yards and six touchdowns.
In 2009, he became a minority owner of the Falcons.
The former running back is the founder of Warrick Dunn Charities, Inc., where Dunn and the organization are “dedicated to strengthening and transforming communities by combating poverty, hunger and improving the quality of life for families and children,” according to the charity’s website.
Dunn is a Baton Rouge, La. native who starred at Florida State and he played for Tampa Bay for six season before joining the Falcons as a free agent in 2002.
Dunn will be just the 10th member in the Ring of Honor which also includes running back William Andrews, quarterback Steve Bartkowski, linebacker Tommy Nobis, linebacker Jessie Tuggle, center Jeff Van Note, tackle Mike Kenn, defensive end Claude Humphrey, cornerback Deion Sanders and running back Gerald Riggs.
Dunn spoke with Matt Winkeljohn and we’ll have a story posted later today. Please come back for that.
2. FANS NEED TO GET INTO THE GAME: Falcons coach Dan Quinn wants the fans to get to their seats and get into the games. Y’all are partying too much in all of the open spaces.
3. SERIES HISTORY: This will be the 96th regular-season meeting between the Falcons and the Saints. The Falcons lead 50-45. The Falcons beat the Saints twice last season. The Falcons won 45-32 in New Orleans on Sept. 26, 2016 and 38-32 on Jan. 1, 2017 in the last regular-season game at the Georgia Dome.
4. KEEP A WATCH ON INGRAM’S TOE INJURY: Saints running back Mark Ingram, the team’s leading rusher, suffered a toe injury and did not practice on Tuesday.
Ingram has rushed for 922 yards on 180 carries (5.1 yards per carry) and has nine rushing touchdowns.
Tackle Andrus Peat (groin injury) also did not practice for the Saints.
5. PLAYOFF PICTURE: Did someone say playoffs?
The Falcons have a 44.9 percent chance to make the playoffs and need to win all four of their remaining games to clinch the berth, according to makeNFLplayoffs.com.
The playoff race is still wide open in the NFC. No teams have clinched and only three have been eliminated.
The Vikings (99.86 percent chance of making the playoffs; 76.6 percent of earning a first-round bye) and Eagles (99.81 percent chance of making the playoffs; 64.9 percent chance of earning a first-round bye) are almost certain to make the postseason.
Either team could lose all four of their remaining games and still have at least a 96.9 percent chance of earning a playoff berth, according to the website.
The Saints (94.7 percent) and Rams (93.6 percent) will clinch a playoff berth with two wins in their final four games.
The Seahawks (71.2 percent) will clinch a playoff berth with three wins in their remaining four games.
The Panthers (63.9 percent) and Falcons (44.9 percent) each control their own fates and will make the playoffs if they win their final four games
6. RYAN VS. NOLAN: From 2012 to 2014, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan worked daily against Mike Nolan’s defenses in practice.
After serving as the Falcons’ defensive coordinator, Nolan went to the Chargers for the 2015 season and sat out the 2016 season. He was working radio on Sirius XM’s NFL channel before deciding to join the Saints as their linebackers coach.
Under coordinator Dennis Allen, with the help of Nolan, the Saints’ defense is vastly improved.
“One thing I know with Mike is that you’ve got to be prepared for blitzes to come from anywhere,” Ryan said.
Nolan helped the Falcons reach the NFC championship game after the 2012 regular season. But it was his defense that blew a 17-0 lead to Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers.
“He’s very smart,” Ryan said. “Very talented defensive guy.”
Ryan doesn’t believe that Nolan has any secrets to share with his Saints defenders.
“Our offense is so much different from the time when Mike was here,” Ryan said. “It’s probably, our protections and everything is very different from when Mike was here.”
8. COACH SMITTY TO THE GIANTS: Former Falcons coach and Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith has the best odds to replace Ben McAdoo as the New York Giants coach, according to sportsline.com.
His top contender is New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
Smith leads the pack at +350, meaning a $100 bet will net you a $350 profit in the wagering work.
Smith is the winningest coach in Falcons history with a 66-46 record and made the most trips to the playoffs (four, with a 1-4 record) and reached the NFC championship after the 2012 season.
BookMaker.eu has compiled an impressive list of contenders.
MIKE SMITH +350
JOSH MCDANIELS + 400
FRANK REICH +550
TERYL AUSTIN +550
MATT PATRICIA +1200
DAVE TOUB +1500
SCOTT LINEHAN +1500
JIM HARBAUGH +1800
JIM SCHWARTZ +2000
PAT SHURMUR +2200
BRIAN KELLY +2300
JON GRUDEN +2500
BILL COWHER +6000
DAVID SHAW +6000
NICK SABAN +8000
9. DEPTH CHART: Cornerback Desmond Trufant returned to practice from the concussion protocol, but Brian Poole’s back injury must be lingering since the Falcons signed cornerback Leon McFadden and released running back Terrence Magee on Monday.
Also, left guard Andy Levitre (triceps injury) is listed as the starter, but Ben Garland will get the nod against the Saints.
McFadden, who played at San Diego State, has been with the Browns, Dallas, San Francisco and the New York Giants. He’s played in 34 games and has made two starts.
He worked out for the Falcons along with Leodis McKelvin on Thursday, Nov. 30.
McFadden was drafted in the third round of the 2013 draft by the Browns.
McKelvin, 32, was a former first-round pick of the Bills in 2008. The Waycross native played at Troy and spent nine seasons in the NFL, last season with the Eagles.
Here’s the official depth chart for the Saints game:
WR 11 Julio Jones, 14 Justin Hardy, 19 Andre Roberts
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 74 Ty Sambrailo
LG 67 Andy Levitre, 63 Ben Garland, 64 Sean Harlow
C 51 Alex Mack, 63 Ben Garland
RG 71 Wes Schweitzer, 63 Ben Garland
RT 73 Ryan Schraeder, 68 Austin Pasztor
TE 81 Austin Hooper, 80 Levine Toilolo, 85 Eric Saubert
WR 12 Mohamed Sanu, 18 Taylor Gabriel, 17 Marvin Hall, 15 Nick Williams
QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub
RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 26 Tevin Coleman, 28 Terron Ward
FB 40 Derrick Coleman
DE 50 Brooks Reed, 99 Adrian Clayborn, 98 Takk McKinley
DT 92 Dontari Poe, 79 Ahtyba Rubin
DT 97 Grady Jarrett
DE 91 Courtney Upshaw, 90 Derrick Shelby
LB 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 53 LaRoy Reynolds
LB 45 Deion Jones, 56 Sean Weatherspoon
LB 59 De’Vondre Campbell, 42 Duke Riley, 36 Kemal Ishmael
CB 23 Robert Alford, 29 C.J. Goodwin, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson
CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 34 Brian Poole, 35 Leon McFadden
NB 34 Brian Poole, 37 Ricardo Allen
S 37 Ricardo Allen, 27 Damontae Kazee
S 22 Keanu Neal, 20 Sharrod Neasman
K 3 Matt Bryant
KO 5 Matt Bosher
P 5 Matt Bosher
KR 19 Andre Roberts, 14 Justin Hardy
PR 19 Andre Roberts, 18 Taylor Gabriel
LS 47 Josh Harris
H 5 Matt Bosher