New Orleans Saints (8-2) at Atlanta Falcons (2-8)
Thursday, 8:25 p.m. ET, at Georgia Dome, Atlanta - TV: NFL Network
*TV announcers: Brad Nessler, Mike Mayock, Alex Flanagan
*Keys to the game: So much for the return of LB Sean Weatherspoon infusing life into Atlanta's moribund defense. The Falcons were trucked over for 163 yards last week by Tampa Bay's Bobby Rainey, who was cut by a Cleveland team relying on Willis McGahee in the backfield. Atlanta now ranks 26th in overall defense and 20th against the run. While the Saints are known for QB Drew Brees spreading the ball around, their offense is at its best when the ground game is a consistent presence - which also improves Brees' protection. Atlanta's offense is second to last in rushing, but must get a strong combined effort out of RBs Steven Jackson, Jacquizz Rodgers, Antone Smith, Jason Snelling and whoever else the coaching staff attempts to use as a potential catalyst. QB Matt Ryan doesn't have much time to throw, and when he does his receiving corps is a shell of the one we've become accustomed to due to age and injuries. If the Falcons fall into an early hole and Ryan is forced to drop back in the face of the Saints' aggressive 3-4, look out.
*Matchup to watch - Saints TE Jimmy Graham vs. Saints FS Thomas DeCoud: DeCoud was benched in favor of Zeke Motta following multiple big completions by Tampa Bay last week. Graham remains a matchup nightmare despite a nagging foot injury. Graham's snaps have been limited, but he makes the most of his playing time, particularly in the red zone.
*Player spotlight - Saints CB Corey White: The second-year pro replaces Jabari Greer (knee) and the Falcons will target him as a potential matchup to exploit.
*Fast facts: Brees has 250 career touchdown passes, behind only Brett Favre (508), Peyton Manning (470) and Dan Marino (420) in NFL history. ... Falcons LB Paul Worrilow has three straight games with double-digit tackles.
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
Atlanta has given up 74 points over the past two weeks and is a far cry on both sides of the ball from the team that took the Saints to the wire in a 23-17 season-opening loss in New Orleans. The Falcons' massive offseason turnover along with injuries leaves them overmatched across the board.
*Our pick: Saints 34-24