by Steve Geller, email@example.com,posted Dec 18 2014 6:38AM
The Black and Gold rebellion has been surrounded by turmoil this season, but their primary mission of earning the division crown is still within grasp. All that is needed is 2 more wins to close out the regular season and the NFC South is back under New Orleans reign for the first time since 2011.
The imperial army from Atlanta looks to quell the Saints uprising though as the Falcons storm into the Superdome this week trying to sweep the season series and regain the upper hand in the division standings. Both sides have not lived up to expectations this year but victory this week could help propel one in the playoffs and beyond while the other is left wondering what could have been…
Sorry, my 4 year old has really gotten into Star Wars and I got a little carried away there.
But there is a lot on the line this Sunday when these two hated rivals meet on the battlefield for supremacy in the NFC South and has the makings of an epic tale the Saints hope has a Hollywood ending.
The Falcons come into the match-up with a record of 5-9 and if they're able to win as well as get a Panthers loss to Cleveland, would take over as the top team in the division.
Atlanta is built very much like the Saints in that they are a high powered offense but lack a stout defensive unit and cannot stop anyone.
The Dirty Birds offense is ranked 7th overall in the NFL (5th passing / 24th rushing) and score on average 25 points per game.
Matt Ryan has thrown for 4,112 yards and is completing 66% of his passes with 27 touchdowns versus 12 interceptions. He's got some good receivers, one being amongst the elite in the league.
Many laughed at Atlanta for parting ways with so many picks back in 2011 to move up in the first round to select Julio Jones 6th overall. But the 6-ft-3, 220pound target has proven to be one of the best in the biz. This season he has hauled in 93 passes for 1,428 yards and 6 scores. The team kept him sidelined this past week due to a hip injury, but you can bet Jones will be ready for game time this Sunday.
Roddy White, Harry Douglas, and Devin Hester round out the rest of the WRs. White actually leads the team with 7 TDs, while Douglas and Hester each have over 400 yards relieving and 2 scores each. 2nd year tight end Levin Toilolo has been an afterthought as he just has 25 catches on the season or 207 yards but has found the end zone twice.
The ATL's rushing attack has been weak, but veteran Steven Jackson is still a big, and I mean BIG (6-ft-2, 240) threat. He has 186 attempts for 698 yards on the year along with 6 scores and surprisingly his only 100 yard game rushing game against the vaunted Arizona Cardinals defense.
The Falcons rushing games biggest problem is the defense. The unit is ranked dead last in the league (32nd vs. the pass / 20th vs. the run) while allowing 26 points per contest. Their pass rush is pitiful as they've managed a league worst 16 total sacks on the year, which is crazy because they've been very opportunistic creating 24 takeaways.
That really scares me because the turnover battle is so crucial in every game. The meeting back in week1 was a shoot out that went into overtime and I fully expect this one to come down to who has the ball last as well. While the "no name" defense worked Monday against the Bears, the Falcons are a whole other animal.
Atlanta isn't a team who has quit on the season or been embroiled with internal deceit.
I've just been burned too many times by this Saints team this season, which is the only reason I just cannot bring myself to pick 'em. I'll say the Birds get a Dirty last second field goal which allows them to Rise Up for the victory. BAH HUMBUG!
Someone emailed me a few weeks ago to suggest that I change the title of this blog to "Know Yourself" since the Saints have been their own worst enemy this season. That sentiment rang true again this past Sunday as the Black & Gold were embarrassed in the Superdome 41-10 by a Panthers team that had lost 6 straight games up until then. It's the first time New Orleans has lost 4 straight at home since 1999, and that was back in the Mike Ditka era. Yowser!
But hey, the good news is that New Orleans has won their last 2 on the road and they head into Chicago this week for Monday Night Football. Like the Saints, daaaaa Bears own a record of 5-8 but have been eliminated from postseason season contention since the 10-3 Packers and 9-4 Lions reside in their division.
The "Monsters of the Midway" have played more like the "Chi-town Chumps" this year. The overall defense is tied for 28th in the NFL currently (30th vs. the pass / 16th vs. the run) and are giving up a league high 29 points per game.
Fellow safety Chris Conte also has 3 INTs this season as does rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller. Taking a look at the guys up front, defensive end Willie Young is the team's sack leader with 8.5. 11 year veteran Jared Allen has picked up 5 QB sacks in his 1st in Chicago, meanwhile DTs Stephen Paee and Jeremiah Ratliff combine for 10.5.
On to the offense which has a lot of nice weapons but ranks only 18th in the league (11th passing / 26th rushing) and averages 22 points per game. Drew Brees has been driving you mad due to turnovers this season? Check out this picture below from a bar in Chicago:
Jay Cutler's arm strength will never be questioned but the guy can be erratic and thrown off his game very easily. He's thrown 25 TDs but is 2nd in the NFL with 15 INTs and is completing around 67% of his passes. Cutler has been sacked 29 times and has lost a league high 6 fumbles. So that's 21 turnovers he is responsible for this year.
At receiver he had a dynamic duo of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery to throw to, until Marshall fractured 2 ribs last week and is done for the year now. Jeffery has made some speculator catches over the past 2 season and has 73 catches for 949 yards and 8 scores this year.
Tight end Martellus Bennett is also a big body threat and has 77 catches on the year for 821 yards and 6 touchdowns. He started out the year red hot, then cooled of mid-season, but has strung tighter 2 nice games back to back.
The real centerpiece of the offense is running back Matt Forte, as the former Tulane star really does it all on this team. He's rushed for 854 yards and 6 scores and leads the team in receptions with 86 for 824 yards and 8 TDs. In 3 career games against the Saints Forte has totaled 324 yards with 1 TD and 2 point conversion.
In my preseason predictions I had this as a Saints loss. Given the state of the team right now I don't trust them one lick to change my pick. Sure the Black & Gold are the team with something to fight for, while the Bears know they'll be home for the playoff already, but there are too many internal problems with New Orleans right now. The locker room hasn't felt right all season long and Drew Brees even questioned the maturity of the team after last week's loss. I think the offense should find some rhythm, but don't think the Fleur Di Lis D will have an answer to slow down the trio of Forte, Jeffery & Bennett.
The big issue with the Saints this season is starting to reveal itself. Drew Brees said after the blowout loss at home to the Panthers that he thinks the team still has a lot of maturing to do. Sean Payton added to that on the Saints Coaches Show Monday night when Bobby Hebert asked about young players nowadays feeling entitled instead of playing with a chip on their shoulder.
"Obviously, there is a premium on finding smart, tough guys that team is first and winning is first," Payton said. "In the event you end up with players that aren't like that, you weed them out and move on. Now I'm not suggesting any one player here, but my point is that was the mission statement when we started here in '06."
We saw some weeding out already happen this year when the team released 4th round draft pick Khairi Fortt. While no official explanation was given to the linebacker's departure, Fortt reportedly missed a couple of team meetings and that just isn't going to fly with Payton at the helm.
"It's a path that's been validated and there's a lot of sweat and a lot of hard work that goes into preparing to play each week," Payton added when talking about finding the right players. "That sacrifice and all those things that are necessary to win in this league start with the team, the accountability and all those things that you look for. When we look back at past rosters there's a thread there and that's something we can't lose track of, and we won't. Those things are not to be compromised and they shouldn't be and nor should they be for our fan base."
In a few games this year, most notably against Cincinnati and this past week versus Carolina, effort seems to be missing in action Saints players. The defensive side of the football is the biggest culprit with shoddy tackling, a pass rush that is non-existent and blown coverages, but the offense isn't immune as dropped passes have been an issue.
Why isn't this team motivated? We're way past the point where they could be reading the press clippings about how great they're supposed to be? And, the bigger question is how do you get them fired up for the final 3 games of the season?
WWL Saints Sideline Reporter Kristian Garic has confirmed that the Saints have waived wide receiver Joe Morgan. Coach Sean Payton stated we could see some personnel changes following their 41-10 loss at home to Carolina.
Morgan appeared in just 5 games this season after working his way back from injury and serving a team suspension. He had 4 catches for 92 yards this year and 14 receptions for 471 yards and 3 TDs in his Saints career.
Garic says this may be the first of several moves to come: "The way Payton reacted at the post-game conference the other day says a lot about some of the changes that might be coming for the Saints. He promised there were going to be some lineup changes, and it looks like this may just be the start of it all.
NFL Network is also reporting that several other players had to face the coach today.
Wow. Sounds very tense in New Orleans today. More than 10 players called individually into #Saints coach Sean Payton's office for review
The Pelicans have signed free agent forward Dante Cunningham. Terms of the deal has not been disclosed.
He is 6-ft-8, 230lbs, and was the 33rd overall pick out of Villanova in the 2009 NBA Draft by the Trail Blazers. Cunningham has appeared in 366 career NBA games with Portland, Charlotte, Memphis and Minnesota. His own career averages of 6.2 points and 3.9 rebounds per contest.
The 27 year old was arrested for allegedly choking his girlfriend but the charges were dropped due to evidence she had fabricated the accusations
Cunningham will be available for the Pelicans' game tonight at Golden State. He will wear #44. Hear tip-off on the flagship 105.3 WWL FM at 9:30pm.
Eagles QB Mark Sanchez
The Sanchize and his headband have been performing well since taking over for the injured Nick Foles, but this week the Legion of Boom rolls into Philly. The Seahawks haven't given up a touchdown since Week 11 and have been the most difficult statistical matchup for QBs all year. In fact, Seattle has allowed only one scoring pass in their last four games.
Dolphins RB Lamar Miller
Sure, Miller averages 4.9 yards a carry and is on pace to set career highs in rushing and receiving yards; but the fish faces the Ravens this week. The Ravens have been one of the toughest opponents for running backs and have given up just two rushing TDs over the last nine games.
Buccaneers WR Mike Evans
I know it's hard to bench Evans. He has three 100 yard games and six touchdown catches over the last 5 contests. However, opponents have limited his big play ability over the last two the Bucs take on a Lions defense this week that has proven to be tough against the pass.
Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart
Despite the team getting the loss, Stewart had his most complete game last week. He showed off his strength and speed while totaling 110 yards on 14 touches. He'll likely find plenty of running room against the Saints defense, which has allowed the fourth most fantasy points per game to running backs this year. With DeAngelo Williams dealing with a hand injury, Stewart should be in line the lion's share of carries
Bills WR Robert Woods
Buffalo takes on Denver this week and I expect this game to feature a lot more offensive fireworks than what the Bills are used to. That is great news for their passing game. Woods has 13 receptions for 189 yards and a touchdown over his last two games and the Broncos D has allowed 24 touchdown passes on the season.
Bears TE Martellus Bennett
Bennett started out the season red hot but then cooled along with the rest of the Bears. He had a solid outing last week though against the Lions with eight receptions for 109. I see him posting another big game against a Cowboys defense this week that has given up nine touchdowns to tight ends.
It's gut check time in the NFL folks. We are entering the 4th quarter of the regular season and now's the time for the contenders to separate themselves from the pretenders. So, what are the Saints? They are 5-7, have been inconsistent; but I still believe they have the pieces, leadership, and a favorable remaining schedule to earn the top spot in the NFC South.
Division rival Carolina comes to town this week, and while the Panthers are a disaster at 3-8-1 this season, we've learned there are no guaranteed wins in the Superdome this year.
The last time New Orleans played the Cats was back in week 9 and the Saints coasted to a 28-10 road triumph. It was the Panthers 3rd straight loss and that slump has extended to 6 in a row.
Their once feared defense is ranked 17th in the league (19th vs. the rush / 17th vs. the pass) and is allowing on average 27.6 points per game. The unit has 9 interceptions and 8 fumbles recovered while sacking the quarterback 26 times.
Don't get it twisted; they do have some studs on D. Linebacker Luke Kuechly leads the team in tackles with 125. He also has 3 sacks, 6 tackles for loss, 6 passes defended, 1 forced fumble and a fumble recovery. I have gushed over his play in the past so I will not bore you anymore with how much I love the guy. He is exactly the type of player the Saints defense desperately needs.
You also have to watch out for defensive end Charles Johnson who has 6 sacks on the year, has forced 3 fumbles and recovered 1. LB Thomas Davis is another solid player who has 85 tackles, 2 sacks, 6 tackles for loss, and 1 forced fumble.
At safety Thomas DeCoud and Roman Harper are a good combo. In 8 years in New Orleans, Harper managed just 7 interceptions. This is his first year in Carolina and he has 3. Figures, right?
Cornerback has been a huge weakness as Melvin White and Josh Norman are the 2 starters. The duo has combined for just 2 picks this season.
Many expected the Panthers offense to have issues this season as quarterback Cam Newton was recovering from ankle surgery and every single one of his receivers was new. The unit ranks 21st in the NFL (21st rushing / 19th passing) and scores on average only 19 points a game.
Newton's offensive line is abysmal which hasn't helped either. He has been sacked 36 times and has lost 5 fumbles. Cam's other numbers are less then Superman-like as well. He's completed 58% of his passes for 2,586 yards and has thrown only 13 TDs with 11 INTs. Newton also hasn't been as explosive running the football as he has in the past. He's scored twice and has rushed for 342 yards.
Rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin leads the team in receiving yards and touchdowns. The 28th overall pick has caught 57 passes for 824 and 2 TDs. Saints CB Keenan Lewis managed to shut him down in the year's first meeting. Benjamin had just 2 grabs for 18 yards.
Other then Benjamin, the only real receiving threat is tight end Greg Olsen. His has 61 catches for 778 yards and 5 scores.
Over in the run game, Jonathan Stewart has been the lead back as DeAngelo Williams always seems to be nicked up. Behind a horrid o-line, Stewart has managed 408 yards on 96 attempts and 2 TDs.
There really is nothing appealing about the Panthers in Sunday's match-up, unless you want to say they are a team that is due for a victory. While my faith in the Saints has not been restored, I do believe they will be victorious on Sunday. Not because they've dropped 3 straight at home and couldn't possibly make it 4, but because they are hands down the better team. Better coaching, better players, and better leadership. Brace yourselves…I feel another Black & Gold scoring explosion coming.
Well, my reverse jinx didn’t work picking the Ravens to win this past week. Honestly, I don’t know if any superstitions or hexes can help the struggling Saints right now. They just dropped 3 straight at home, are now 4-7 on the year, and must now hit the road on a short week to take on the 7-4 Steelers ballclub that is coming off a bye. Seems totally fair right?
Waaahhhhh! Well there’s no crying in baseball so there is definitely no crying in football. Pittsburgh is another tough, physical AFC North opponent who the Black and Gold don’t seem to match up well against. New Orleans is 0-3 versus that division this year.
Looking at the stats, the Steelers own the 5th best offense in the league (10th rushing, 5th passing) and put up 26 points per game on average. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is in his 11th NFL season and is looks to be on his way to surpassing a few previous career bests.
He is completing 68% of his passes this season and has thrown for 3,270 with 24 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. He managed to get half of that TD total in a 2 game stretch in week 8 & 9 where he tossed 6 scores in consecutive weeks. Big Ben has been sacked 30 times this season, but is not an easy guy to bring down as he stands 6-ft-5, 241lbs; hence the nickname.
His top target is receiver Antonio Brown, who is one of the best in football right now. Brown’s got 88 catches for 1,161 yards and 9 TDs. The guy averages 105 yards a game and you better watch out for his flying kick move.
Tight end Heath Miller is a big threat in the Steelers passing attack and has 43 catches for 501 yards and 2 scores WR Marcus Wheaton is in his 2nd year in the league and has 36 recpetions for 442 yards and 2 scores while rookie Martavias Bryant hay only have 16 receptions, but 6 have been for touchdowns. Former Saint Lance Moore has been pretty quiet in Black and Yellow this season. Lance Romance has 11 catches for 156 yards and 2 TDs.
(Miss you and those moves Lance)
The team’s second leading receiver is actually running back Le’Veon Bell. He’s caught 57 passes for 484 yards and 2 TDs. The 6-ft-1, 244 lbs RB is a load to bring down and has also racked up 951 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground this year. He’s gotten the bulk of the carries this season, but will be relied on even more now that the team decided to cut LeGarrette Blount.
Over on the defensive side of things, the Steel City’s unit is ranked 13th overall in the NFL (10th vs. the rush, 16th vs. the pass) and allow 26 points per game. They haven’t really generated much of a pass rush on the year as they have tallied on 20 sacks, while the secondary has managed 8 interceptions. While the numbers are eye popping, a stat that does jump out at you is their 4 defensive touchdowns which is tied for the most in the NFL with the Eagles, Packers and Texans.
Linebacker Lawrence Timmons is a tackling machine with 94 and also has 2 sacks on the year. The other LBs, James Harrison and Jason Worlids combine for 7.5 QB takedowns.
Meanwhile, Troy Polamalu may be in his 12 season in the league, but is still a force at safety. He has 51 tackles, 4 for loss, and has created and recovered 1 fumble. Fellow safety Mike Mitchell also has 51 tackles on the year, while corners Cortez Allen and William Gay each have 2 interceptions a piece. Gay has found the end zone twice.
Defensive end Cameron Heyward is Pittsburgh’s main man up front. Along with his 32 tackles he has 4 sacks and 5 tackles for loss.
Believe it or not folks, I had this pegged as the Saints first loss of the year before the season started. I must have inhaled way too much of that West Virginia air and caught some kind of high or virus.
Now that reality has set in, my forecasting skills have gotten a tad better. There is no reason at all for me to pick New Orleans this week. They are in shambles on defense and the offense, which loves to play on the fast track in the Superdome, will be outside in Heinz Field where the early weather forecast is calling for a high of 57 degrees and a 70% chance of rain. Forget the weather though; Pittsburg is 1) playing at home 2) a better team right now and 3) coming off a bye. I foresee the Who Dat frustration lingering for a 4th straight week.
Late in the 2nd quarter in the Pelicans win over Utah Saturday night, guard Eric Gordon left the game with what was then called a separated shoulder. Now the team has informed us that he will be out indefinitely after an MRI revealed Gordon suffered a torn labrum as a result of the left shoulder subluxation injury. No timetable has been given for a return, but anytime you hear that something is torn, it cannot be good.
So what’s that mean for the team moving forward? Well, Austin Rivers will likely take over as the team's starting shooting guard. He has been averaging around 22 minutes per game this season with 7 points, 2 assists and 2 rebounds.
The 7-5 Pelicans have very little depth at shooting guard, so Jimmer Fredette should also see some time on the hardwood as well.
It’s a tough week ahead for New Orleans as they must take on 3 teams this week with winning records. The 8-5 Sacramento Kings come into the Smoothie King Center tomorrow, then the Pels take on 6-5 Hawks in Atlanta on Friday, and finally on Saturday they travel to Washington to face the 9-3 Wizards.
Redskins QB Robert Griffin III
RG3 is coming off a terrible performance against a bad Buccaneers secondary. Now he will go on the road to face the 49ers, who have been solid against the pass this season. With Griffin struggling, a road trip out west to face one of the NFL's best defenses doesn't exactly exude much confidence.
Vikings WR Jerrick McKinnon
Yeah, Minnesota faces a Packers team that struggles to stop running backs, but McKinnon’s chances might be limited. Green Bay’s offense is on fire as they have averaged 49.5 points per game this month. The Vikings might need to ditch the run game early and throw the football often to try and keep up with the Pack.
Patriots RB Jonas Gray
Gray is coming off a monster Week 11 performance where he rushed for 201 yards and four touchdowns, but this ‘aint last week. He faces the Detroit defense Sunday which ranks first overall against the run. The Lions are allowing only 68 yards per game on the ground and have given up only four rushing touchdowns on the season.
49ers QB Colin Kaepernick
Kaepernick is a physical specimen with a cannon for an arm and might be the fastest QB in the league. But he and the San Fran offense have been a letdown this season. This week the Niners host a reeling Redskins team that has one of the worst secondaries in football. Washington has allowed the fourth most passing touchdowns and are tied for a league low three interceptions. They have also given up the fifth most rushing yards to opposing QBs.
Ravens WR Steve Smith
Saints fans cringe when they hear this guy’s name as he terrorized the black and Gold for 13 years with the Panthers. Carolina wrote him off at age 35 and Smith signed with the Ravens to prove he isn’t over the hill. He’s got 49 catches for 728 yards and 4 TDs on the year and he should add a nice chunk to that Monday night against a bad Saints secondary that is allowing 14.2 yards per catch to receivers.
Giants TE Larry Donnell
Donnell has a good opportunity to prove his worth for scavenging fantasy owners this week against the Dallas Cowboys who allow good numbers to opposing tight ends. The last time the Giants played the 'Boys he had seven catches for 90 yards. Donnell has proven in recent weeks he can put up decent fantasy points without seeing many looks.