Over the next two weeks we’re going to take a closer look at the Falcons’ 13 opponents this season, with the final three scouting reports focusing on their NFC South rivals.
Scouting the Falcons schedule:
Next up: New Orleans Saints
2016 record: 7-9
All-time series record: Falcons lead, 51-45 (includes postseason)
Last meeting: Falcons won 38-32 on Jan. 1, 2017, in Atlanta
When they play in 2017: Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, in Atlanta and Sunday, Dec. 24, 2017, in New Orleans
Best draft pick: Bring up the New Orleans Saints and two things usually come up, one good and one not-so-good: Drew Brees and defense. The Saints seem to always have a chance because they have Brees, but they struggle immensely when it comes to stopping anyone. And it’s no secret that the Saints continued to struggle when it came to keeping their opponents out of the end zone in 2016. They were No. 2 in scoring offense, but 31st in points allowed (and 30th overall).
Five of their seven draft picks were used on defensive players, including their first one – 11th overall – on cornerback Marshon Lattimore, arguably the best corner in the 2016 draft class. The former Ohio State Buckeye, who ran a 4.36 40-yard dash at the combine, is considered a legitimate shutdown corner and some have compared him to Jalen Ramsey.
Best free agent acquisition: There’s little debate that running back Adrian Peterson is the obvious choice here, who signed a two-year deal worth $7 million with the Saints in the offseason. While there aren’t many 32-year-old starting running backs in the NFL, Peterson isn’t your average running back. Yes, he’s coming back from a torn meniscus that forced him to miss most of the 2016 season, but the seven-time Pro Bowler is now playing in one of the best offenses in the NFL.
The two other notable free-agent signings were former Lions guard Larry Warford (four-year, $34 million deal) and former Panthers linebacker A.J. Klein (four-year, $24 million). Klein played multiple spots in Carolina, including middle linebacker while filling in for Luke Kuechly, and should help this struggling unit. They also added receiver Ted Ginn Jr., linebacker Manti Te’o, defensive end Alex Okafor, and it’s worth noting the re-signing of defensive tackle Nick Fairley (four-year, $28 million).
Toughest matchup: Drew Brees, who threw for 5,208 yards and 37 touchdowns, is still considered one of the elite quarterbacks in the league, even at 38 years old. Getting that Saints unit off the field should once again be no easy feat for opposing defenses.
While the Saints did lose receiver Brandin Cooks – who was traded to the Patriots during the offseason – they added some explosiveness on the outside with Ted Ginn Jr. Early on in Saints camp, Brees…