When the Saints go marching in, the Falcons go cold. Cold as Matty Ice.
Thursday night the New Orleans Saints will face the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. The Falcons, who boast an NFL best 10-1 record and have yet to lose at home this season, are heavily favored to take the “W.” A look at the recent history of the conference rivalry, however, shows that it won’t take a holy miracle for the Saints to win.
New Orleans has won its last four games against Atlanta, tarnishing the Falcons’ perfect record in week 10. The last time Atlanta beat New Orleans, the Saints were reining Super Bowl champions and Michael “The Burner” Turner still had some gas in the tank.
The Falcons’ feature a high-powered offense led by Matt Ryan, who is emerging as an elite quarterback in the NFL. Out wide the Falcons torch defenses with the dual threat of Roddy White and Julio Jones, who both rank among the league’s top ten in receiving yards. They face a New Orleans defense that allows just under 300 passing yards a game, third to last in the league. Even more staggering is the league-worst 156 rushing yards the Saints allow per game, which should give even 30-year-old Turner plenty of room to run.
The Saints make up for their porous defense with an attack that nets 28 points a game, fifth best in the league and more than the Falcons’ 26.7 points. Drew Brees is an elite quarterback capable of dicing the Falcons’ robust backfield. He has led the Saints to a 5-6 record after losing the first four games this season, a slow start attributable to the suspension of head coach Sean Payton after the Saint’s bounty scandal was exposed.
The game is set to be a high scoring shootout, and the Saints need a win to keep their hopes for a wildcard slot alive.
As rumors regarding the status of Texas head coach Mack Brown gain steam on fan message boards, notable Longhorns athletic donor Red McCombs told The Daily Texan on Wednesday that Brown would have the job as long as he wants it.
“I think we’ve been blessed to have Mack Brown as our coach I expect him to be the coach for manys years. In any event, if he were to leave the coaching job I’d expect that to be his prerogative and not somebody else’s,” McCombs said over the phone. “Any reports to the contrary are unfounded.”
Texas’ football program currently sits at a crossroads. Two wins in the next two games — Saturday at Kansas State and in the bowl game — would give the team 10 wins for the first time since 2009. But if the Longhorns fail to win another game, they’d finish 8-5 for the second season in a row. On paper, that hardly signals improvement.
In his Monday press conference, Brown was adamant that he’d plan to return for his 16th season. His contract, $5.3 million a year, runs through 2020. Later that afternoon, reports surfaced on premium fan sites InsideTexas.com and Orangebloods.com that boosters were growing wary of Brown’s direction of the program and impatient of its slow climb back to prominence after the 5-7 record in 2010.
Over the past several seasons, teams have proven over and over that it no longer requires a great defense to win in the NFL. However, every once in a while the guys who are supposed to stop the other team from scoring can actually manage to do so. Just ask these fantasy players:
1) Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
Coming into Sunday’s showdown with the Giants, Rodgers had thrown for at least two touchdowns in every game since a week three loss to the Seahawks, and had not turned the ball over twice on a given day all year. However with the Packers’ offensive line in shambles and New York boasting a tenacious pass rush, Rodgers struggled mightily in Green Bay’s 38-10 loss, throwing for 219 yards and a touchdown while throwing an interception and losing a fumble.
2) Vernon Davis, TE, San Francisco 49ers
Davis’ up and down season continued against the Saints this week, failing to have a single pass thrown his way in Colin Kaepernick’s second consecutive start for San Francisco. Considering he did not even get on the stat sheet, it’s no wonder the veteran tight end vouched for the recently replaced Alex Smith to resume the role of starting quarterback for the 49ers after the game.
3) Mike Wallace, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
I would have put the entire Steelers’ offense here if I could after their eight-turnover game against the Browns. However, that would be a little much, so I’ll single out Wallace. The self-proclaimed leader of Pittsburgh’s “Young Money Crew,” Fast Money was held to a single catch for nine yards, and was a non-factor with third-string QB Charlie Batch under center. The Steelers and Wallace’s fantasy owners cannot wait until Ben Roethlisberger is healthy.
Whether it was from turkey and stuffing on Thanksgiving or shopping for flat screen televisions and mp3 players on Black Friday, this week was not kind to the bodies of millions of Americans. Exhausted and full, what better way to rest up from a long week than to sit back, relax, and watch some football? With their fantasy owners on the mend, these players stepped in and gave them something to be thankful for:
1) Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers
Playing for the first time on Monday Night Football, Newton shook his sophomore slump and looked like the dominant player he was in his rookie season, leading Carolina to a 30-22 win in Philadelphia. Newton did it with his legs and his arm, throwing for 306 yards and two touchdowns in addition to rushing for 52 yards and two touchdowns.
2) Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
Brady and the Pats capped off the NFL’s Thanksgiving games by thrashing the Jets on national television, 49-19. As was expected, Brady dissected the Jets, throwing for 323 yards and three touchdowns while running for another. For the season, he now has 24 touchdown passes and only three interceptions.
3) Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys
Bryant looked incredible for the second week in a row, torching the Redskins for his second straight 145-yard receiving game. Although the Cowboys’ frenzied attempt to rally from a 28-3 halftime deficit fell short, Bryant did his part by hauling in two touchdowns in second half of the game.
The number of franchises playing without their All-Star players or prospective All-Star players is nearly ludicrous. Dirk Nowitzki, Andrew Bynum, Kevin Love (just returned), Ricky Rubio, Danny Granger, Steve Nash, Derrick Rose and Amar'e Stoudemire have all missed a significant chunk of the season.
A good team is able to play well with favorable circumstances. But, great teams, the teams that exude championship caliber poise are the ones that muster wins with significant setbacks and injuries.
On the Miami Heat’s road to the 2012 NBA Finals, the Heat had to overcome the absence of their explosive power forward and third scoring option Chris Bosh for several playoff games against the Indiana Pacers and the Boston Celtics. This nearly pushed the Heat to the brink of elimination, but the poise of Lebron James willed them to the ultimate goal.
In the Dallas Maverick’s road to the 2011 NBA Finals, the Mavericks had to overcome a season-ending injury to second-leading scorer Caron Butler. The Mavericks needed other role players Jason Terry and Shawn Marion to step up and eventually produced an outstanding offensive team due to the poise and leadership from veterans Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd.
In the 2010 NBA Finals, the Boston Celtics were defeated by the Los Angeles Lakers in a highly contested Game 7, because they could not overcome the loss of defensive anchor and starting center Kendrick Perkins to a PCL tear in Game 6. These moments define the character and makeup of a team’s grit and resilience.
Thus far in the 2012-2013 season, a few teams have illustrated the ability to overlook their losses and continue to fight. A few have not. Let’s take a quick look at these teams.
Despite the absence of Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavericks have maintained a record above .500. OJ Mayo’s timely rise to stardom keeps the Mavericks more than just afloat and right in the midst of the fiery Western Conference playoff hunt.
The 76ers front office fought hard to bring franchise player Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia. However, with Bynum’s knee issues lingering potentially into mid-season, Jrue Holiday had to become the franchise’s savior. He has averaged nearly 18 points and eight assists a game to keep the 76ers afloat until Bynum’s return.
The Timberwolves probably had the most arduous task -- they had to play without electrifying playmaker Ricky Rubio and their most productive power forward Kevin Love. However, Nikola Peković stepped up in a big way to make up for the rebounding and scoring deficiencies caused by Love’s absence.
The Pacers should technically be performing the best because of their dependence on a more balanced and collective offensive attack. David West, Roy Hibbert and George Hill are all excellent scoring options. However, this team has failed to live up to expectations with a sub .500 record thus far.
Los Angeles Lakers:
The Lakers were confused to say the least while trying to play the Princeton Offense without Nash. However, with the dismissal of Mike Brown and arrival of new coach Mike D’Antoni guiding the offense in LA, the Lakers have managed to win four of their last five.
Considering that a Rose-less Bulls was a .600 team last season, the Bulls going .455 thus far is actually quite disappointing. Perhaps it is becoming evident that the Bulls cannot compete in a superstar league without their own superstar.
New York Knicks:
The best team in the NBA thus far. They have done this without All-Star power forward Amar'e Stoudemire. Quite honestly though, they are so much better without Stoudemire. A Knicks team with either Carmelo Anthony or Amar'e Stoudemire would fare well. But, a Knicks team with both suffers from severe defensive lapses, rebounding deficiencies and chemistry issues.
The grit and resilience developed through these arduous times often define a team. Only time can tell which of these teams have developed that resilience.