FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Atlanta Falcons (4-6) renew their rivalry against the New Orleans Saints (9-1) for a Thanksgiving night prime-time showdown.
The Falcons-Saints rivalry has been extremely competitive in recent years, and that proved true earlier this season as the two teams needed overtime to decide the outcome. This game could turn into the familiar shootout we've come to expect from some of the league's best offenses, which should make for an exciting matchup.
Here are the key matchups that could decide the winner on Thanksgiving night:
Michael Thomas vs. Falcons secondary
This game is going to feature two of the NFL's very best receivers in Julio Jones and Michael Thomas. Jones has been playing exceptionally well this season, but Thomas has been step-for-step with him in that regard. Consider some of these numbers. Thomas has been thrown to 91 times this season, he's caught 82 of those passes. That's a catch rate of 90.11 percent! Nearly 15 percentage points higher than the next wide receiver. He's third in the NFL with 1,042 receiving yards and his eight touchdown catches are tied for the third-most among wide receivers.
In the first meeting between these two teams Thomas caught all 10 of the passes thrown his way for 129 yards. With the way Drew Brees and Thomas are playing right now, it will be tough to slow them down.
Falcons' offense vs. Saints' offense
There's a real possibility that a shootout occurs in New Orleans on Thursday night, and although these two units won't be directly going up against one another, they will certainly be competing against one another. The Saints undoubtedly have one of the NFL's most explosive offense, and the Falcons have enough firepower to match them when everything is clicking.
The key for Thursday night is to make sure everything is clicking. If the Saints are their usual selves, offensively, the Falcons can't afford to have too many drives stall out before reaching the end zone. Field goals likely won't cut it in this game, and if Atlanta can't put points up on the board consistently it may find itself in a hole really quickly.
"Yeah, every time we get the ball it's critical," Julio Jones said. "They have the ball 37 minutes or so, something like that, they can possess the ball very well. They get first downs, they keep drives going, things like that. They know we can score too. What teams can do, especially the Saints, they'll try to keep us on the sideline for a duration, for long periods of time and things like that. When we get the ball we've got to score points."
Foye Oluokun vs. Mark Ingram
Rookie linebacker Foye Oluokun, the Falcons sixth-round draft pick in this year's draft, has been playing well of late. Since Week 6, Oluokun has 34 tackles, which is the most on the team and eight more than the next-closest Falcons defender on the list. Oluokun's instincts against the run have noticeable improved as his first season has progressed, but he will be tested on Sunday.
The Saints have one of the most versatile and dynamic running backs in Alvin Kamara, but it's Mark Ingram who could be an X-factor on Thursday. He was suspended the first time these two teams met in Week 3, but he's coming off of back-to-back 100-yard performances and he scored a pair of touchdowns on the ground last weekend in the Saints' blowout of the Eagles.
"Mark really brings a physical style in the run game that he has," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "He's really downhill. He's really square as a runner and can break tackles after contact as well … You can see the run game has really taken off with him being back in the mix for this long period of time."