The Saints fans’ 2018 wish list looked something like this:
1. Get revenge over Vikings after blowing the divisional playoff game last season.
2. Pummel the Eagles to show them what they missed in the NFC title game last season.
3. Beat the Falcons twice and make it to the Super Bowl in Atlanta’s sparkling new stadium.
Well, the Saints have beaten the Falcons once, the Vikings and Eagles.
All that is left is to beat the Falcons again, make to the playoffs and reach Super Bowl LIII.
The struggling Falcons (4-6) will try to derail the streaking Saints (9-1) at 8:20 p.m. Thursday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
The thought of Saints fans doing a Second-Line parade down Northside Drive on their way into Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the big game may still happen, but the Falcons can take one thing off their wish list with a major upset.
The Thomas Rules
The Falcons will use a combination of coverages to attempt to slow the Saints’ No. 1 receiver Michael Thomas.
He has 82 catches for 1,042 yards and eight touchdowns this season. Thomas caught 10 passes for 129 yards in the previous meeting this season.
“That’s going to be part of the game plan for sure,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said.
The Eagles doubled Thomas last week and kept a safety over the top of him.
“Some of that also depends on when it’s man-to-man or zone, how do you feature that,” Quinn said. “But you can’t just put some one there on the man-to-man plays, obviously that would give him away. ... You have to be able to match guys, still play zone, match guys, and still play man-to-man.”
Thomas is in his third season in the NFL and has joined the elite class of wide receivers.
“I would say, it is an excellent year by him,” Quinn said. “(There are) so many things that you see when you watch them play.”
Did someone say playoffs?
The clock is ticking on the Falcons’ playoff hopes.
They need to upset the Saints and quite possibly win their remaining games. Their chances of the reaching the playoffs have been pegged at anywhere from six to nine percent by four computations.
“We have to stay aggressive in everything that we do,” wide receiver Julio Jones said. “We have to believe in ourselves.”
The Falcons are averaging 26.3 points per game, but haven’t shown signs that they can keep up with the Saints if they get into another shootout.
The Falcons have scored 19 and 16 points in the past two games.
“At the end of the day, whoever we are playing, we always want to score touchdowns,” Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian said. “We want to finish our drives in the end zone. This week, as much as any, knowing how potent they are offensively, we have to take advantage of our opportunities.”
The last game had eight lead changes, with the Saints prevailing 43-37 in overtime.
“We have to stay aggressive,” Sarkisian said. “We need to be efficient because we know with Drew Brees and company on the other side, they are obviously a very good offensive football team.”
Three key matchups: Falcons at Saints
Falcons RT Ryan Schraeder vs. Saints DE Cam Jordan: Schraeder is coming off a tough showing against Dallas’ Demarcus Lawrence. Jordan is tied for the team lead with six sacks. He had five tackles, two sacks, two quarterback hits and one pass breakup in the previous meeting with the Saints.
Falcons DE Vic Beasley vs Saints RT Ryan Ramczyk: The Falcons need Beasley to continue getting free after a two-sack performance against the Cowboys. He had a sack and a quarterback hit in the previous meeting with the sturdy Ramczyk, who’s in his second season in the NFL.
Falcons FS Damontae Kazee vs. Saints RB Mark Ingram: Kazee has been in the right place to get interceptions and leads the league with five. But as the last defender, he has to get ballcarriers to the ground if they break through to the secondary. He’s had missed tackles in the last to games that led to touchdowns by Nick Chubb (92 yards) and Ezekiel Elliott (23 yards).
QB corner: Matt Ryan on the Saints
On the Saints defense: “They’re playing well up front. Their front-seven is doing a nice job creating good push both in the run game and in the pass game. Then obviously they’ve been very explosive on the other side of the ball so teams have been playing behind and have gotten into more passing situations.”
On Quinn’s comments that the Saints are scoring points and field goals aren’t going to cut it: “No. The job for us is to score every time we get into the red zone. That’s no different than any other week in terms of our mindset as an offense. When we get our chances, we have to convert, and we’ve been doing a good job of that for most of the year.”
On seeing a team that averages 45 points over the past three games and what goes through his head: “I mean nothing really. Obviously, we know that they’re explosive and capable of making plays, but every game shakes out differently. I’ve been in all kinds of different ones throughout my career. I try to prepare myself the same week every week, knowing that it’s our responsibility and our job as an offense to find a way to score more than they do, and that approach is going to be the same for us this week.”
About the Saints
» The Saints are coming of a 48-7 win over the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles,
» This will be the 99th meeting between the Falcons and the Saints. The Falcons lead the series 51-47.
» The game will feature a halftime performance by Grambling State University’s “GSU Tiger Marching Band” and Southern University’s “Human Jukebox” Marching Band.