FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Welcome to a special game day edition of the Early Bird Report! We are several hours away from kickoff between the Falcons and Saints on "Thursday Night Football" and coach Dan Quinn has excused everyone in attendance from work on Friday in hopes that Mercedes-Benz Stadium will have a party-like atmosphere.
Today's Early Bird Report includes several expert picks for tonight's game, why running backs fans could be in for a treat and some final injury news from the Saints.
FALCONS HEADLINES FROM AROUND THE COUNTRY
Week 14 expert picks: Falcons picked to defend home turf
While not every expert has their picks in yet for this week's slate of games, there are some who have made clear their projected winner in each matchup. Of the six experts at CBS Sports, four like the Falcons at home on Thursday night. Among those CBS Sports experts who like the Falcons is – you guessed it – senior NFL insider Pete Prisco. Prisco has been all-in on Atlanta this season, and he predicts a close 31-27 victory for the home team. Here's what he had to say about his pick:
"If the Falcons are to have any chance to win the division, they have to win here. They didn't look good on offense last week against the Vikings, but they will get the offense back on track. The Saints will keep up as well with Drew Brees. I expect a shootout like a lot of games between these two. Enjoy the fireworks."
Elsewhere, the projection model at the statistics and analytics site FiveThirtyEight gives the Falcons a 56 percent win probability against the Saints. The panel over at SB Nation is high on New Orleans to knock off Atlanta and taking a big step to clinching the NFC South. Six of the eight experts at SB Nation picked the Saints to win.
*AP: *All eyes on the running backs in Saints-Falcons showdown
When talking about this matchup earlier in the week Quinn proclaimed, "If you like running backs, it's your kind of game." He's not wrong, as both teams boast a running back duo that is among the best in the NFL. When looking ahead to tonight's game, Paul Newberry of The Associated Press felt the running backs were most likely to steal the show.
Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara have combined for 2,397 total yards and 20 touchdowns on 367 total touches for the Saints, while Devonta Freeman – who missed three games – and Tevin Coleman have combined for 1,539 total yards and 12 touchdowns on 299 total touches for the Falcons.
Here are a few more stories heading into Thursday night:
- *USA TODAY: *Mike Zimmer, not Xavier Rhodes, shut down Julio
- *USA TODAY: *[
](http://thefalconswire.usatoday.com/2017/12/06/4-predictions-for-falcons-vs-saints-thursday-night-matchup/)* * *Sporting News: New Orleans at Atlanta by the numbers **
NEWS ON THE FALCONS' OPPONENT: New Orleans Saints
*The Times-Picayune: *Peat out; Ingram and Lattimore questionable for Saints
Starting left guard Andrus Peat has been ruled out for the Saints on Thursday night, according to Josh Katzenstein of *The Times-Picayune. *Peat is the only Saints player who has officially been ruled out for the game, but there are five players for New Orleans who are listed as "questionable" heading up to kickoff. Among those five are starting running back Mark Ingram and rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore. Ingram sat out practice on Tuesday and Wednesday, while Lattimore has missed the last two games for New Orleans and has been limited in practice this week.
*The New Orleans Advocate: *Saints-Falcons rivalry now features to rising defenses
The Falcons-Saints matchups have more often than not become shootouts with each offense looking to impose its will on a lackluster defense. This year, as Joel Erickson of *The New Orleans Advocate *wrote, each team boasts a defense capable of at least slowing down the high-powered offenses.
"New Orleans, once the laughingstock of NFL defenses, ranks 12th in the league in total defense and 12th in scoring," Erickson writes. "Atlanta, a team that flashed its defensive potential in its run to the Super Bowl last season, is realizing that potential somewhat under Dan Quinn this season, ranked eighth in total defense and 13th in scoring."
Here are some more pieces on the Falcons' rival:
- *Sports Illustrated: *Marshon Lattimore thriving immediately with Saints
- *The Advocate: *Saints looking beyond stats, know Falcons still dangerous
- *Times-Picayune: *Saints at Falcons: 3 key matchups
BIGGEST NEWS FROM AROUND THE NFC SOUTH
*The Charlotte Observer: *How much will Greg Olsen play vs. Vikings?
After missing last week's game against the Saints due to a foot injury, Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen is expected back for the Panthers against the Vikings. Olsen was a full participate at Wednesday's practice, according to *The Charlotte Observer's *Joseph Person, which is a positive sign for Carolina.
"There's not going to be a pitch count as far as number of plays that we have to hit or we don't want to hit more than," Rivera told Person. "I think it also helps Mike in terms of the game-planning and the plays that he can start prepping and get ready to call." * *
Here is some more news from around the division:
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