Tale of the tape: New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons


The Saints and Falcons, two divisional rivals, meet in prime time and for the first time this season on Thursday night. Who has the statistical advantage?

There is nothing like a good, passionate Southern rivalry in sports. The Iron Bowl is a pinnacle staple in college football, as is the SEC Championship game. That passion translates to the pros, as the Saints and Falcons have been bitter rivals for decades now.

This season, the NFL made it so the rivalry is renewed much later in the season than usual, and it’s been a long, anticipated wait. Week 14 is here, and the two teams will finally battle it out on Thursday Night in Atlanta.

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Both have grown and changed immensely since a season ago, as the 7-5 Falcons find themselves with as many losses as all of last season. Meanwhile, the 9-3 Saints attained more wins than all of last season in Week 10.

New Orleans has a better defense than in many years, especially compared to last. And Atlanta’s offense took a detour during the offseason due to Kyle Shanahan’s departure.

So, predicting what will happen in this matchup and how the teams will fare against each other is tougher than usual. There’s no solid game film to watch of these two rosters battling it out due to the vast changes that have occurred to each team. And the importance of this game yields strategies designed to exploit any advantage a team may have.

That’s why, for this game, looking at the per-game averages of each team is even more useful. The numbers are not biased or skewed. They display how well these teams perform in certain areas on the field. That’s why it is important to take a closer look, and compare some statistics.

Here are the numbers and team that has advantages in major, per-game statistical categories*:


Points: 29.4-22.8, Saints
Total yards: 417.4-374.6, Saints
Passing yards: 274.8-259, Saints
Rushing yards: 142.6-115.6, Saints
Interceptions: 5-8, Saints
Sacks given up: 15-16, Saints
First downs: 258-245, Saints
Time of possession: 31:48-29:02, Saints


Points allowed: 20.3-20.3, Tie
Total yards allowed: 341.2-348.9, Falcons
Pass yards allowed: 228-236.1, Falcons
Rush yards allowed: 112.8-113.2, Saints
Interceptions: 11-3, Saints
Sacks: 33-32, Saints
First downs allowed: 220-253, Saints

*all numbers via ESPN.com and NFL.com

On paper, the Saints have the advantage in 12 of the 15 categories. Essentially, there is no major area that the Falcons control in this matchup.

But, on closer inspection, the Saints’ advantages aren’t too major either. While they control 80% of the important, measurable categories, the margins are small. Besides rushing yards and turnover margin, everything else is almost identical. Sacks, sacks given up, time of possession, first downs, points allowed.

Those two large advantages are going to be the keys to a Saints victory. They make less mistakes than Atlanta, and force many more turnovers. That could lead to more time on offense for the Saints, something the Falcons have been able to keep under control this season.

Next: 5 Keys to handling the Falcons on Thrusday night

Rushing the ball and controlling the tempo via the ground will also be critical. The Falcons, despite New Orleans’ great secondary, actually have a better passing defense in terms of yards than the Saints. This will turn into a game where Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram are relied on heavily to keep the Saints moving forward.

Now, this doesn’t mean these numbers will be consistent in this contest. Anything can happen in sports. But, it’s always nice, and critical, to dive into the numbers and how they stack up when discussing the first matchup between two very good teams.