Nov 21, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (80) stiff arms Atlanta Falcons free safety Thomas DeCoud (28) after a catch in the second half at the Georgia Dome. The Saints won 17-13. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons Predictions

A good old division rivalry is a great way to start the NFL season.  Here are keys to victory and predictions for the New Orleans Saints at the Atlanta Falcons.

For Saints win:  Jimmy Graham must expose Falcons linebackers

Atlanta did everything they could in the off-season to upgrade their defense but their work was quickly put in jeopardy when they lost linebacker Sean Weatherspoon for the season.  His loss puts even more pressure on a rather pedestrian linebacking corps.  For the Saints his exit makes their game plan obvious.  They must utilize their most dangerous offensive weapon, tight end Jimmy Graham.  Sending him on frequent routes over the middle will force the linebackers to cover him, and without their leader in Weatherspoon, that difficult task will become nearly impossible.

For Falcons win:  Protect Matt Ryan by pounding ball with Steven Jackson

Being at home affords a few more advantages than normal, but Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan knows better than to underestimate the Saints defense even if they’re on the road.  The unit finished 4th overall last season, keyed by a strong pass rush led by Cameron Jordan and Junior Gallette.  Now they have added ballhawk safety Jairus Byrd.  It’s not hard to see that they’ll want teams throwing the ball against them.  While Ryan certainly can, he would be better served slowing the game down and keeping their rush in check.  That will come by regularly feeding his running backs, specifically Steve Jackson.  It will also take some pressure off rookie left tackle Jake Matthews in what will be his first NFL game.

Prediction:  NO 24, ATL 23

Tags: Atlanta Falcons Jimmy Graham Matt Ryan New Orleans Saints Steven Jackson

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