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Atlanta Falcons Look To Clinch Playoff Bye Vs. Saints – Week 17 Preview

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The Atlanta Falcons host the New Orleans Saints on Sunday knowing that a victory will clinch the 2nd seed in the NFC and a 1st round bye in the playoffs.

The Falcons booked their place in the postseason with a convincing 33-16 win over the Carolina Panthers on Saturday.

Falcons News

Taylor Gabriel missed practice with a shoulder injury on Wednesday. The diminutive speedster has been a huge part of the offense, offering not just a deep threat but also the ability to make defenders miss and gain yards after catch. Having been initially used as a gadget player, Gabriel has earned a bigger role in the second half of the season and his absence would hurt, especially against a struggling secondary that has been torched through the air recently.

If Gabriel is unable to go then Aldrick Robinson should see more playing time. The former Redskins receiver showed how effective he could be against the 49ers and proved why offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was keen to reunite with him when he hit free agency in the offseason.

Outside of Dwight Freeney, who has Wednesdays off, rookie tight end Austin Hooper was the only player who didn’t practice. Hooper missed week 16 with a knee injury and looks unlikely to play on Sunday. If the Falcons can pull through without him then he will benefit from the extra week of rest that a bye would provide. In Hooper’s absence, both Josh Perkins and DJ Tialavea impressed with touchdown passes and will look to prove their reliability again this week, knowing how many options Matt Ryan has at his disposal.

Rookie linebacker De’Vondre Campbell practiced in a limited capacity for the first time since his week 15 concussion. Campbell has had an inconsistent season so far, but his athleticism and coverage ability make him an upgrade over Paul Worrilow, who deputised at weakside linebacker against the Panthers.

Star wide receiver Julio Jones is edging closer to full health, but Dan Quinn will want to limit him if at all possible. Jones was on the field for only 39 of 63 offensive snaps in week 16 and didn’t look as explosive as he normally does, but the fact that he was used as more than a decoy was encouraging.

Elsewhere, left guard Andy Levitre, cornerback Robert Alford and strong safety Keanu Neal’s limitations in practice aren’t serious and all are expected to play without restrictions.

Saints News

The Saints’ secondary has struggled to contain receivers all season and moving Delvin Breaux to injured reserve will weaken the group further. Undrafted rookie Ken Crawley had shown promise before a knee injury in practice on Thursday put an end to his season.

Center Max Unger, who arrived as part of the Jimmy Graham trade, has been a solid addition to an offensive line that has always prided itself on its strength on the interior. When Drew Brees has protection and a pocket to step up in, he’s capable of beating any team. Unger has been limited in practice recently with a foot injury and the Saints will hope that he is available on Sunday.

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Elsewhere, Dannell Ellerbe and Craig Robertson’s injuries would further deplete a linebacker group that has been struggling to make plays and has already seen 2015 1st round pick Stephone Anthony placed on injured reserve.


The blueprint for the Falcons will be similar to it has been all season: score, score, and score some more.

The running backs were the key to the victory over the Saints in week 3 with the team rushing for over 200 yards and 3 touchdowns, while Freeman and Coleman were the team’s two leading receivers. Since 1st round rookie Sheldon Rankins’ return, however, the Saints have looked much better against the run.

With that in mind, the Falcons will likely look to target a secondary that has been decimated by injuries and a linebacker corps made up mostly of career backups. While the Falcons have some injury concerns of their own to receivers, Matt Ryan is playing the best football of his career and a big game on Sunday would further push his MVP case.

Drew Brees has made a career out of passing the football and this season has been no different. Despite being criminally overlooked for the Pro Bowl, Brees leads the NFL in passing yards and with an impressive group of receivers including Michael Thomas, Willie Snead and Brandin Cooks, he will hope for more of the same.

Both sides have similar philosophies and look to play the game the same way. The difference this season is that the Falcons have been better at it than the Saints have and have shown far more consistency. In the last regular season game at the Georgia Dome, the Falcons need to win to secure the 2nd seed and should have enough about them to do so.