The most heated rivalry in the NFC South resumes another regular-season battle this Sunday inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. In what will be the 103rd meeting between the two franchises, the Saints look to continue their dominance and advance to 8-2. On the other side, the Falcons want to salvage what they can from the 2020 season, and a win over their bitter rival would indeed numb some pain.
Without QB Drew Brees and potentially other key pieces to the Black and Gold's lineup, some unlikely heroes will need to step up to conquer their division rivals.
Here are my three X-Factors for the Saints in the first of two matchups against the Atlanta Falcons in 2020.
OFFENSIVE X-FACTOR: RB ALVIN KAMARA
Without QB Drew Brees for at least three weeks, the offense will look a lot different, especially with Taysom Hill reportedly starting in his place. Sean Payton should rely heavily on running back Alvin Kamara - the team's MVP at this point of the season.
I projected both Kamara and Murray to see more touches this week regardless of who would start at QB for the Saints. By far, Kamara has been the best player for New Orleans and is on a pace to surpass 2,000 scrimmage yards on the season.
This week, it will be crucial for the Saints to sustain long drives and beat down a porous Falcons defense. Between Latavius Murray and Taysom Hill, the Saints should have plenty to work with between the tackles. But it's Kamara's home run ability that makes him this week's X-Factor.
During long drives in which the Saints have pounded the football, Kamara's world-class shiftiness and speed will come into play, giving the Saints chunk plays and perhaps several highlight-reel touchdowns.
No one knows what the Saints' offense will look like with Taysom at the helm. However, one thing you can count on is #41 continuing to make his case for Offensive Player of the Year.
DEFENSIVE X-FACTOR: C.J GARDNER-JOHNSON
Coming off of his best game as a pro, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson proved to be a vital part of the Saints defense for years to come. Last season against Atlanta, Ceedy collected his first career INT, picking off Matt Ryan in a Thanksgiving Day victory inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
A year later, Gardner-Johnson is determined to continue his productive play for the Saints by helping lockdown Falcons RB Todd Gurley II and TE Hayden Hurst. CJGJ's swagger and physical play style will set the tone for the defensive from the opening kick.
In a game against your bitter rival, that defensive swagger will make all the difference in what could become a "grind it out" ballgame.
The Saints' secondary and defense are starting to put together the puzzle, and Gardner-Johnson is a vital piece to it all.
WILD CARD X-FACTOR: QB TAYSOM HILL
After struggling to produce at the beginning of the season, Taysom Hill's game has taken a turn for the best in the past three weeks. Hill set a career-high in passing yards two weeks ago against Tampa Bay and has run the ball very efficiently out of the Wildcat as of late. The do-it-all star has begun to dust off the cobwebs at precisely the right time for New Orleans, clicking on all cylinders down the home stretch of the season.
Friday, Hill was named the Saints' starting quarterback in place of the injured Drew Brees. The change of pace QB offers multiple unique looks for the Saints offense and will keep Atlanta's defense on their heels with the multitude of positions he will line up.
Last Thanksgiving evening in Atlanta, Hill had a career night. He caught and rushed for touchdowns and blocked a punt en route to the Saints clinching another NFC South crown. His versatility will be counted on again against the Falcons, making the Saints' Swiss Army Knife a wild card X-Factor in Week 11.
For all the latest New Orleans Saints News & Rumors follow:
The Saints News Network at www.Si.com/NFL/ Saints
Follow Saints News Network’s Writer, Brendan Boylan, on Twitter & Instagram at @btboylan.
Continue to follow all Saints’ coverage on Social Media with Saints News Network at @SaintsNews on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.