FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Falcons will conclude their on-field preparation for this weekend's showdown against the Saints on Friday, leaving a little more than a day before taking the field in one of the most exciting games in Week 16. Be sure to check out all of the coverage we've got for this matchup on AtlantaFalcons.com and get up to speed on this great rivalry before kickoff.
Today's Early Bird Report includes why the Falcons are lucky to have an owner like Arthur Blank as well as another Saints starter heading to injured reserve.
FALCONS HEADLINES FROM AROUND THE COUNTRY
*USA TODAY: *Falcons are lucky to have Arthur Blank as owner
Since he purchased the Falcons franchise, Arthur Blank has been a well-regarded owner both in the city of Atlanta and among the other NFL owners. In light of the recent news about Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, Matt Urben of *USA TODAY *felt it was a good time to discuss why the Falcons are fortunate to have Blank. One of the primary reasons Urben believes Blank is deserving of praise is the way he handled the NFL's players kneeling during the national anthem.
"Atlanta, like every other team in the NFL this season, was forced to deal with the never-ending national anthem controversy," Urben writes. "While a lot of owners took hard stances against players kneeling, which alienated or disregarded player protests, Blank was one of the few that seemed to understand the protests were not aimed at disrespecting the flag."
Along the lines of respecting his players, Urben also mentions that Blanks trusts those who work for him to do their jobs. That faith paid off last season, when Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff – along with countless other coaches, scouts and support staff – helped the Falcons make the Super Bowl.
Here is some more news on the Falcons heading into the weekend:
NEWS ON THE FALCONS' OPPONENT: New Orleans Saints
ESPN: Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro placed on IR with groin injury
Two days after the Saints placed starting linebacker A.J. Klein on injured reserve, they did the same with starting strong safety Kenny Vaccaro, who will undergo surgery to fix both a groin and wrist injury. As ESPN's Mike Triplett notes, the Saints are still in good shape at the position. Vonn Bell, Rafael Bush and Chris Banjo are three players who could help replace Vaccaro, and Bell is expected to get the first crack at it.
ESPN: Missing first Falcons game 'annoying,' so Kamara excited for rematch
The Saints are ready to get another shot at the Falcons. It seems as though every player on the team has been waiting for this rematch against Atlanta, including rookie running back Alvin Kamara, who missed nearly all of the first game after leaving with a concussion on the Saints' opening drive. He's now back in the picture and excited to get another shot at the Falcons, according to Mike Triplett of ESPN.
"Annoying. Annoying, really. That's all I can say," Kamara told Triplett of missing the first game. "Of course I wanted to play, but we've got another one [this Sunday in the Superdome]. So I'll be able to play in this one."
Kamara also had some high praise for Falcons linebacker Deion Jones, who has proven to be a thorn in the Saints' side in his first two seasons. The Saints' rookie running back said Jones is "definitely" one of the toughest matchups for a player with his skill set.
Here are some more articles on the Saints:
- Pro Football Focus: Michael Thomas expanding route tree, cementing elite status
- *New Orleans Advocate: *Lattimore ready for rematch with Julio, 'one of the best'
BIGGEST NEWS FROM AROUND THE NFC SOUTH
*The Washington Post: *Panthers finally getting most out of McCaffrey at the right time
It took some time for the Panthers to figure out how to fully incorporate first-round running back Christian McCaffrey into their offense, but they appear to have finally done so. According to Mark Bullock of *The Washington Post, *they are getting the most out of him at just the right time. In the Panthers' win against the Packers last weekend, McCaffrey touched the ball 18 times for 136 yards – a career high – and a touchdown.
"The eighth overall pick in the 2017 draft hasn't quite lived up to the expectations placed on him, but that's not entirely his fault," Bullock writes. "The Panthers have lacked creativity in using one of the more versatile weapons to enter the NFL in recent years, throwing him bland bubble screens and running him between the tackles.
"But against the Packers, Carolina made the most of McCaffrey's talents. They moved him around and found ways to get him the ball in space, where he can use his elusiveness to make defenders miss and pick up additional yards after the catch."
Here is some more news from around the division:
- *Tampa Bay Times: *The flip side of the Bucs' rash of injuries
- *USA TODAY: *McCoy on Panthers: 'We have to let this division know we're still here'
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