Falcon Points

5 key points from the NFL Playoffs as we head to the conference finals

Hard to ignore the Patriots in the postseason. Patriots/Facebook

The NFL conference championship games are set, and the pretenders have been discarded. All four higher seeds won and advanced this past weekend. Only the Saints-Eagles game was competitive. Five thoughts as we move on to the next round:

1) Old vs. new. Both championship games will feature all-time great quarterbacks (Drew Brees and Tom Brady) facing two young up and coming superstars (Jared Goff and Patrick Mahomes). The ageless Brady will have to go on the road, but what the Patriots have done is amazing. Eight straight trips to the AFC Championship is simply silly. This may be the Chiefs year, but Brady and the Pats won't make it easy. Brees and Sean Payton have never lost a game at the Superdome in the playoffs. The Rams are solid, but the Saints played poorly Sunday and still advanced.

2) The Colts are close. They were dominated by the Chiefs, but they are a few players away from being a strong force in the future. Beef up the secondary, maybe add to the running game, and hope to keep Andrew Luck healthy, and they will be legitimate Super Bowl Contenders next year.

3) The Cowboys, too. They weren't competitive against LA, but the Cowboys are a team with potential. They can upgrade their DL, get a tight end and add to the secondary, but they don't have a lot of weaknesses. They just need to get a little better and hope they can win with Dak Prescott.

4) The Chargers are fool's gold. Everyone says they have the most complete team. But they are a lot like the Falcons. They seem to be lacking something. They have the coaching and the talent, but they just don't seem to be up for the big moments. They were run out of Foxboro by a Patriots team with flaws.

5) Predictions. I took New England over the Saints before the season. If I had to do it over, I would probably go with Chiefs over Saints. The four best teams in the regular season will be meeting for a shot at the Super Bowl. Both home teams (New Orleans and KC) have huge home field advantages. The Chiefs - who had one playoff win under Andy Reid (Texans fans will remember 30-0) - cleared a huge hurdle by housing the Colts. This might be their year.

Regardless, unlike this week, we should get competitive games. It will be surprising if we had the boring routs that we had in three of the four playoff games.

The bad news? We only have three football games left in the season. Hopefully they will be entertaining.

Falcons 26, Saints 9

Saints vs Falcons 1: The good, bad and ugly

Michael Thomas was clutch. Michael C Hevert, Saints website

In the 22nd meeting of Drew Brees and Matt Ryan, The Saints dropped the ball and fell to 7-2 with a 26-9 loss to their heated division rival. Here are my observations:

The Good

​-Michael Thomas had 13 catches on 14 targets for 152 yards. He was the lone bright spot in a dim game for the Saints. Brees was 32/45 for 287 yards, but failed to throw a touchdown pass. Thomas is the Saints top receiver. Everyone knows he's going to get the ball and be targeted a high percentage of the time, yet he still dominates. If he's not considered one of the top receivers in the league, something is wrong with that list.

-Marcus Williams came from the middle of the field to pick off Matt Ryan with four minutes left in the game and the team down by 14. Eli Apple lost his man on a go route and Williams made the save. This was the type of play that makes Williams one of the better players on this defense and one of the best young safeties this team has ever had.

-Julio Jones is one of the best wide receivers in the game. He's usually a matchup nightmare for the Saints and anyone else he goes up against. After Marshon Lattimore got hurt, the rest of the defensive backs picked up his slack and held Jones to three catches on nine targets for 79 yards, with 54 of those yards coming on a play in which Apple bumped into a teammate and caused Jones to be wide open.

The Bad

-By the start of the 2nd quarter, the Falcons ran for a season first half high of 67 yards. They ended the first half with 85 yards (21 more than their previous first half high) and totaled 143 yards, which is 74.5 yards more than their season average of 68.5 per game.

-The Saints average 6.6 penalties (tied for ninth) and 51.2 penalty yards (4th) per game. They had 11 penalties today for 85 yards. Four of those were illegal use of hands to the face. This is something that has to be addressed. It's not normally called this frequently, but every one of them were legit. It's similar to holding because it can be called on every play.

-Speaking of the run game, the Saints only managed 52 yards on 11 carries themselves. They came into this game averaging 114.3 yards per game. The fact that they were playing from behind all game played a large part in this stat. Only running the ball 11 times is no excuse. The Falcons averaged giving up 118.4 yards a game on the ground. Sean Payton seemed to panic and keep throwing instead of sticking with the run.

The Ugly

-To say the Falcons' pass rush has been anemic this season would be an understatement. They came into this game with seven sacks. While the Saints' pass protection, and Brees' pocket presence, has typically yielded low sack numbers. They gave up six today and had only given up 12 all season.

-228 yards and nine points are numbers you'd think you'd see in the 1st quarter, not a game total. When Brees has played a complete game this season, the Saints averaged over 500 yards and 30.5 points per game. Not a good look, especially when you're in the race for homefield advantage in the NFC.

-Lattimore (hamstring) and Andrus Peat (arm) both left the game in the first half. Neither returned to play and it showed. Jones got all his catches and yards after Lattimore got hurt, and Brees was sacked five times after Peat went out. Not to mention left tackle Terron Armstead has been sick all week. This made for a disaster along the offensive line.

This rivalry will always be intense. Over the last two decades, the Saints have dominated the series 24-15. For a 1-7 team to play and dominate a 7-1 team in their buiklding is unacceptable from a Saints point of view. Props to Falcons' head coach Dan Quinn for having his team prepared. Sometimes a team needs a kick in the pants to get them going. The Saints were coming off a bye, played at home, and lost to a division rival who was heading towards a top draft pick due to their record. Next week when they play Tampa, I'll be interested in seeing how this Saints team comes out.

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