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It is finally the start of the NFL season, and boy, what an opening game the NFL set up for the first week of the 2013 season for both the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints.
Both teams are projected to contend for the NFC South crown this season and both teams are also looking to prove something.
For the Atlanta Falcons, they hope to prove that last season wasn't a fluke and that they are ready to take the next step in the playoffs and reach the Super Bowl.
Meanwhile, the New Orleans Saints are ready to reestablish themselves as the top dogs in both the NFC South and the NFL as well. So what can we expect when the two division rivals clash this Sunday? Here are three bold predictions for the Week 1 matchup between the Falcons and Saints.
1. New Falcons running back Steven Jackson and defensive end Osi Umenyiora will have little impact on the game
The Falcons had two problems last year, they couldn't run the ball effectively and they couldn't get after the passer either. That is part of the reason the Falcons didn't reach the Super Bowl last season. So what did they do? They flipped John Abraham for Osi Umenyiora and Michael Turner for Steven Jackson. Abraham had 10 sacks last season while Umenyiora had six sacks in 2012 and has had 15 combined sacks the last two seasons.
Jackson had another 1,000-yard season last year for a Rams offense that wasn't anything special. Turner, meanwhile, had 800 yards last year and a measly 3.6 yards per carry average, but did score 10 touchdowns.
So while you are all reading this and saying that Jackson should be better because Turner was not efficient and seemed worn down last season, I counter you with the following factoid. In last season's two matchups between the teams, the Falcons had 46 yards rushing in the first game and 126 in the second.
While the second game is an encouraging sign, it means that the Falcons aren't too inclined to be running the ball, especially, when the defense they face just lost linebacker Will Smith to an ACL injury and gave up the second most passing yards in the league last season (4,681). You can bet that Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White will be tearing apart this secondary.
As for Umenyiora, he was inconsistent for the New York Giants and his output was worse than Abraham's last season (look above). Umenyiora is also not a great run defender as well. Considering the fact that the Falcons also have two rookie cornerbacks in Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, the Falcons defense will have all it can handle with the Saints dangerous passing attack. Even if Umenyiora gets by his man, the secondary won't be able to slow down the receivers enough to prevent Drew Brees from getting the ball out quick enough to avoid the rush.
2. Matt Ryan will outperform Drew Brees
Fresh off signing a new five-year deal worth $103.75 million, $59 of which is guarenteed, Matty Ice will be out to show that last year's playoff win wasn't a fluke and that he is worth the money. Last season he had the league's highest completion percentage at 68.6 percent.
While Drew Brees and Sean Payton will certainly have fun tearing apart a Falcons defense that features two rookies in the secondary, Ryan will return the favor and outperform Brees in his own building. Last year, Ryan did just that as he threw for 411 yards and three touchdowns while completing 34-of-52 passes.
With yet another year under his belt and Julio Jones entering his third year in the league, Ryan will explode in New Orleans yet again. The third year is usually the time you see a wide receiver take the leap to a superstar level, which is scary considering Jones caught 79 passes for 1,198 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.
Opposite Jones, will be Roddy White, who also is no slouch himself. Rounding out his arsenel of weapons is Tony Gonzalez who should be fresh and ready to go, as well as new running back Steven Jackson. Jackson is a much better pass catcher out of the backfield than Michael Turner and provide a safety valve underneath.
3. The game will be won on defense
A game featuring two of the worst pass defenses from last season and two of the most explosive passing offenses in the league will surely come down to who has the ball last. However, in the words of ESPN College Gameday's Lee Corso, not so fast my friends! Defense will win this game with a key turnover or last minute defensive stand.
Last year in Atlanta, turnovers were the difference as New Orleans lost 23-13 as Drew Brees threw five interceptions. In the same game Matt Ryan had only 165 yards and one touchdown. Also in the first game between the two teams, New Orleans knocked Atlanta from the rank of the unbeatens by stopping the Falcons from gaining one yard as tight end Tony Gonzalez wasn't able to corrall a fourth down pass in tight coverage with under 40 seconds to go in the game.
What do you think will happen in this division matchup? Sound off in the comments.