This Thursday night's game features a battle of NFC South rivals. Will the 5–0 Falcons hold off the Saints to remain perfect, or can New Orleans shut down one of the NFL's most productive offenses and stop its skid? Don Banks makes his Thursday Night Football pick below.
• Last week: 9–5; Season: 48-29 (.623).
• Best pick in Week 5: Cincinnati 23, Seattle 19 (actual score: Bengals 27–24).
• Worst pick in Week 5: Kansas City 33, Chicago 17 (actual score: Bears 18–17).
The Saints stopped being the Saints as we have known them right around the time of their 2014 season opener at Atlanta, when they blew a pair of fourth-quarter leads and lost 37–34 in overtime to their division nemesis. Including that game, New Orleans has dropped 13 of its past 21 games, after going 55–25 from 2009 to '13, with four playoff berths in that five-season stretch.
That run of success must feel like ancient history already in New Orleans, because this year’s 1–4 Saints squad enters Week 6 fighting for relevancy and respectability rather than a playoff spot. In many ways, it feels as if these two long-time rivals are headed in opposite directions, with the promising Dan Quinn coaching era taking off with a 5–0 flourish in Atlanta and the 10-year Sean Payton regime hitting its lowest ebb in New Orleans.
The Falcons are playing solid complementary football this season, but it is fair to question whether they can continue their habit of fourth-quarter magic throughout the entire season? Atlanta is the first NFL team to ever win its opening five games despite facing a fourth-quarter deficit in four of them. Last week’s overtime victory at home against Washington was the Falcons’ latest rabbit pulled from the hat, but Atlanta may not need such theatrics against a Saints club that features the league’s worst defense, which is fresh off surrendering 519 yards of offense in a 39–17 blowout loss at Philadelphia last week.
The Saints are giving up 409 yards and almost 29 points per game on average, and committed four turnovers against the Eagles. Those are numbers that should make the Falcons salivate, as they pursue their first 6–0 start since 2012, and their first two-game winning streak in the Superdome since '01–02, during New Orleans’ Jim Haslett coaching tenure.
This game might not stay close, but at least the Falcons and Saints both feature an exciting young playmaker to watch on offense this season, in Atlanta running back Devonta Freeman and New Orleans receiver Willie Snead. Freeman churned for a career-best 153 yards on 27 carries last week against Washington, and has gained 362 yards with seven rushing touchdowns and an impressive 5.1-yard average in his first three NFL starts. Snead, a collegiate free-agent signing in 2014, has emerged as Drew Brees’s go-to target, making six catches for 141 yards in Philadelphia and taking over the team lead with 381 receiving yards (22 catches, 17.3-yard average).