The Saints season begins in their home away from home, the Georgia Dome. That’s right, you heard me. The Black & Gold have owned Atlanta since coach Sean Payton and QB Drew Brees arrived in New Orleans back in 2006. In the 8 games played in the ATL, the Saints have won 6 of them. The games are typically close, though, and even though the Dirty Birds are trying to find their toughness, as seen on Hard Knocks, they should not be considered pushovers.
Atlanta comes into the 2014 season looking to bounce back from last year’s 4-12 record that caused them to finish tied with the Buccaneers for the worst record in the NFC South. Injuries plagued the team, wreaking havoc on top talents Julio Jones, Roddy White, Steven Jackson, Sean Weatherspoon, Sam Baker and Kroy Bierman. That trend has spilled over into this season, as Baker and Weatherspoon have already been shelved for the year, Jones is still recovering from a foot injury and Jackson is dealing with a hamstring issue.
A crushing blow to the Falcons is the departure of future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez. He retired from the game after the end of last year. Gonzalez was a Saints killer and will be almost impossible to replace in the in the lineup. QB Matt Ryan loses his trusted security blanket.
The team did address some issues up front, signing big defensive tackle Paul Soliai and guard Jon Asamoah. Atlanta also used their 1st round draft pick on tackle Jake Mathews out of Texas A&M. Clearly, protecting their signal caller is a top priority, as Ryan was sacked 44 times last year, which was 3rd most in the NFL. Look for the Saints D to challenge the rookie Mathews early and often.
The Falcons defense needs to do a better job as well, as they finished ranked 27th overall in the NFL. Along with adding Soliai, the team also beefed up by bringing in defensive end Tyson Jackson. The D-line gave up a whopping 135.8 rushing yards per contest last year and like the Saints, the secondary struggled to create turnovers, tallying just 10 interceptions.
While I do think the Dirty Birds will be better this season, they just don’t have enough to make a legitimate run at the division crown. I think the Falcons can certainly “Rise Up” and achieve an 8-8 season, but victory numero uno won’t be coming this Sunday.