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Early Bird Report: Expert pickers split on Falcons-Saints; former players discuss rivalry


FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Today's Early Bird Report includes expert picks for Week 3 as well as former Falcons players discussing "Hate Week" against the Saints.


Week 3 picks:

The Falcons and Saints seemingly always play close games that go down to the wire, which is perhaps why it's so hard to pick the winner of this game. The six expert pickers at CBS Sports who picked this game were split right down the middle with three votes for each team. As always, however, Pete Prisco likes the Falcons to earn the win at home.

"The Saints have struggled in their first two games, especially on defense," Prisco writes. "Atlanta seemed to right the offense against Carolina, especially in the Red Zone. I would expect the Falcons to put up a lot of points here, but New Orleans will as well. It's close, but the Falcons will take it."

ESPN was also split on this game. Four of the eight expert pickers for ESPN chose the Falcons to win in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, while four picked the Saints to win on the road.

The prediction model at FiveThirtyEight is a little more decisive in favor of the Falcons. According to the model, Atlanta has a 66 percent chance to knock off New Orleans and win its second game of the year.

Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today:

ESPN: 'Hate Week' is here: Falcons love to play the rival Saints

Few NFL rivalries match the passion of Falcons-Saints. The rivalry has long been building out of the spotlight, but the last decade has brought it to the forefront of the nation's attention.

With the latest iteration of this classic rivalry about to take place on Sunday, ESPN's Vaughn McClure spoke with several former players who have taken part in this rivalry over the years.

"The ugliest thing? The Saints doing their dances in the street after they won," former Falcons running back Michael Turner told McClure. "My family seen it. Those Saints fans would go out in the streets and dance up Northside Drive. Even though I never saw it myself, I hated hearing about it.

"But it was always a fun game. The game I always loved playing the most was Saints-Falcons ... especially in New Orleans because I like being on the road in a hostile environment."

To read the rest of McClure's piece on this rivalry, click here.

AJC: Film review report card

After getting a chance to go back and watch the Falcons' 31-24 win against the Panthers, D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution put forth his weekly report card of each unit's performance. The highest-graded unit for the Falcons in the win was their pass offense, which earned an A from Ledbetter.

"The second pass attempt of the game went to Calvin Ridley as the Falcons were determined to get him more involved in the offense," Ledbetter writes. "He picked up a 9-yard gain on a simple out-route. The announcers said that offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian was making the offense more of his own this season and that he didn't have to run Kyle Shanahan's offense this season. Ryan moved the ball around to eight receivers. Ridley's touchdown reception was spectacular. The Falcons took those three deep shots – overthrown, underthrown and intercepted -- to Jones and that opened up things underneath for Ryan. He was 14-of-15 for 138 yards and a touchdown on passes that traveled less than 10 yards. Tight end Austin Hooper had a strong game. He made a nice outside cut to get away from Thompson on his touchdown catch in the second quarter."

To see the rest of Ledbetter's report card, click here.

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