NFL Thanksgiving Day Primer: New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons

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Ah, Thanksgiving. That time where friends and family all get together and act like the whole situation isn’t a delicately balanced powder keg sitting three stories above a tire fire. To stave off insanity, we plop in front of the television and mindlessly watch the NFL Thanksgiving Day games. You might find yourself desperately trying to steer the conversation back to the game when they mention something on the broadcast that sets off your relatives. If you’re wondering how to sound smart at football, here’s a breakdown of the 05:20 PM Pacific game. We already have you covered for the morning game here and the afternoon game here.  

Hopefully, everyone will be drunk or asleep by the time the third game rolls around and you can be in peace. If not, we have you covered.

NFL Thanksgiving Day 05:20 (PST):
New Orleans Saints (9-2) at Atlanta Falcons (3-8)


  1. The Falcons currently lead the all-time series, 53-48
  2. Both teams entered the league in the NFC West, and moved to the NFC South in 2002 because a team in Georgia and a team in Louisiana made absolutely no sense for the “West.”
  3. The Falcons are truly terrible this season, and the Saints are one of the best teams in the league. Somehow, the Falcons spanked the Saints 26-9 in New Orleans a couple of weeks ago.
  4. Both teams play in stadia sponsored by a real southern company… Mercedes-Benz

Rivalry-defining moment: The Falcons played the Saints in the first game in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome after Hurricane Katrina. This is the game that cemented Steve Gleason in NFL lore.


The Saints have been an NFC powerhouse for nearly a decade, now. This is mostly on the arm of aging QB superstar Drew Brees and the mind of head coach Sean Payton. This season looked to be derailed when Drew Brees suffered a thumb injury in week two. They lost that game, but Teddy Bridgewater carried them until Brees came back in week eight. They’re universally considered, at worst, to be one of the top-five teams in the league and Super Bowl contenders.

Who to Know:
Drew Brees, Quarterback:

Brees has been one of the best quarterbacks in the league for a long, long time. The Saints picked him up when the Chargers let him go back in 2006. He is starting to show his age (he’s 40), as he faded down the stretch last season. He’s still one of the smartest and most accurate quarterbacks in the league, increasing his accuracy each of the last four seasons. He injured his thumb and missed weeks three through seven recovering. Oh, and if your uncle complains about politics in football, you can let him know that Drew Brees said we shouldn’t close Gitmo back in 2009.

What to Say: “Sure, Brees is good now, but we have to see if the time off for his thumb helps overcome his late-season diminished arm strength.”

Michael Thomas, Wide Receiver:

Michael Thomas is probably the most reliable wide receiver in the league this year. He’s working on his sixth-straight 100-yard game on Thanksgiving, and there’s little doubt that he will get it. He was briefly the highest-paid wide receiver in the league before Julio Jones (more about him later) received his contract. He’s on pace to break the receptions record (143), as he already has 104 receptions. The #2 player, DeAndre Hopkins, has 81.

What to Say: “Of course Michael Thomas is going to break the receptions record. It’s a pass-first offense and he has a 30% target share.”

Alvin Kamara, Running Back:

One of the most dynamic offensive weapons in the league, Kamara does not give you visions of a big burly running back going for 3-4 yards up the gut. He’s a weapon that Sean Payton deploys all over the formation, as his open-field skills, contact balance, and elusiveness are all elite. He’s been as efficient this year as he was last year, averaging just one yard per game different. People are getting itchy with Kamara as an injury hindered him, and he has just two touchdowns this year after eighteen last year.

What to Say: “Kamara is playing fine, but man, that touchdown regression is crazy. How do you go from 31 touchdowns in your first 31 games to two touchdowns in your next 9 games?”

Marshon Lattimore, Cornerback:

Say it with me, if you’ve heard this about a Saints player on this list: Lattimore is considered one of the best in the league at his position. Lattimore is a shutdown corner who erases opponents from the field. In their last meeting, superstar Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones was off the stat sheet entirely until Lattimore was injured. He’s questionable to play on Thanksgiving, and his presence, or lack thereof, will be a frequent point of focus for the NBC crew.

What to Say: “Is Lattimore playing? I think the Falcons have a real chance if Julio plays but Lattimore is still out, or is limited.”



If the Saints are a team that has evaded potential downfalls, the Falcons are a team that fate has thrown, headlong, off of a cliff into a briar patch. You might know the Falcons from losing to the Patriots in the Super Bowl after being up 28-3. They can’t shake the injury bug for the second-straight year, their retooled offensive line can’t keep Matt Ryan upright, and Head Coach Dan Quinn is going to be cleaning out his office come Black Monday in January 2020. They’ve bounced back recently, now that Raheem Morris is making the defensive play calls. We’ll see if that’s enough.

Who to Know:
Matt Ryan, Quarterback:

The man perpetually looks like he is holding back a scream, whether things are going well or not. It’s his eyes, he has screamer eyes. Anyway, the football player. Matt Ryan can’t be good for two-straight seasons, it’s a universal decree, like turkey makes you sleepy. Unlike turkey making you sleepy, Ryan’s inability to stay good is true, and the universe intervenes to keep it that way. He was doing well this season (even though the Falcons weren’t), on pace to throw for 34 touchdowns and almost 5,000 yards. Then, the ankle injury sidelined him and things are quickly circling the drain. The Falcons offensive line is a mess, so expect to see him on his rear end quite a lot on Thanksgiving.

What to Say: “Matt Ryan was doing fine with Dirk Koetter (pronounced like Qatar) as his OC again, it’s this stupid ankle injury that’s destroying his pocket mobility.”

Julio Jones, Wide Receiver:

Julio Jones somehow went from young upstart wide receiver to nearly 31-years-old, seemingly overnight. He’s been one of the most dominant wide receivers in the league since he entered in 2011. He’s frequently injured and is questionable for Thursday with a shoulder injury. He also has a serious touchdown problem; Julio Jones has never had more than ten touchdowns in a season, despite leading the league in receiving yards per game three times.

What to Say: “It’s a real shame that Julio’s inability to stay on the field and awful playcalling kept him out of the end zone his whole career. He could have had a Hall of Fame résumé, but he might end up as Hall of Very Good.”


If all this fails, just remember the old NFL Thanksgiving Day game standbys:
“Man, they just have to let them play out there!”
“How is that not holding?”
“That hasn’t been pass interference all game, why are they calling it now?”
“Establish that run, baby! (include loud obnoxious clapping)”
“You know, this is four-down territory. You need to go for it here!”

Or read off some of our Thanksgiving-themed fantasy football team names

Or the most time-honored NFL Thanksgiving Day game tradition: just going to sleep instead of engaging with your relatives.


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About Jeff Krisko

You can follow me on twitter, @jeffkrisko for the same lukewarm takes you read here.

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