Predictions & Projections
David Dorey
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WEEK 1 BAL at DEN (THU) GB at SF *NE at BUF *TB at NYJ

Prediction: ATL 24, NO 31 (Line: NO by 3)

Players of Interest: Steven Jackson, Mark Ingram

Update: Roddy White is listed as questionable but is expected to play without limitation.

The Falcons lost 27-31 in New Orleans last year but later took the home win 23-13.

This game is just an inter-divisional one between two teams that have not changed much. The Falcons maybe feature better rushing with Steven Jackson but otherwise the same personnel is in place for both teams. The new - or rather old - dynamic at play is that HC Sean Payton is back and Rob Ryan shows up to fix a defense that broke records it was so bad. Improvement would be hard to avoid. You have to like the emotional flavor for the Saints to open at home with Payton back. This has the probability of being the highest scoring game this week.

1 @NO - 10 SEA -
2 STL - 11 @TB -
3 @MIA - 12 NO -
4 NE - 13 @BUF -
5 NYJ - 14 @GB -
7 TB - 16 @SF -
8 @ARI - 17 CAR -
9 @CAR - ----- ----- -----
News | Statistics | Roster
ATL @ NO Rush Catch Pass
QB Matt Ryan 320,3
WR Julio Jones 6-110,1
WR Roddy White 5-70
PK Matt Bryant 1 FG 3 XP

Pregame Notes: Not much change to the Falcons who drew up short in their bid to go to the Super Bowl last year. They've loaded up with even more aging "I gotta get a ring" stars with Steven Jackson joining the crew. This was already one of the better passing teams with three bona fide star receivers but Michael Turner finally succumbed to the ravages of time and remains out of football. The addition of a good rushing game again will make a difference, but the Falcons have to put up better defense if they want to see the Super Bowl from the playing field.

QUARTERBACKS: Matt Ryan comes off a record best season with 4719 passing yards and 32 touchdowns. He's finally entered the top 5 range for fantasy quarterbacks and even gets another receiver in Jackson. Ryan passed for 411 yards and three scores in New Orleans last season. He was later held to only 165 passing yards and one score in the home match-up. He's sure to post big yards again this year from what should be an improved Saints offense forcing a shoot-out.

RUNNING BACKS: Michael Turner really took a downturn in 2012 when he only gained 800 yards on 222 carries but he scored 10 touchdowns and in all five years as a Falcon broke double-digit scores. That alone makes Steven Jackson interesting since scoring has been the one area where he just did not get the opportunities. He scored 16 times back in 2006 but since has never had more than six or seven rush touchdowns in a season. His presence should be enough to make Jacquizz Rodgers lose all fantasy value. The Falcons also want to employ Jackson as a receiver far more than Turner who rarely had any receptions. This all bodes well for the 30-year old Jackson and is his golden chance to get a Super Bowl ring.

Expectations are similar rush yards for Jackson, but even more receptions and touchdowns from what he produced in St. Louis during recent years.

WIDE RECEIVERS: No need to change any dynamics here with perhaps the deadliest duo of wideouts in the entire NFL. Roddy White (7-114) was the main receiver in New Orleans last year while Julio Jones only managed 75 yards on four catches. Julio ended his second season with 1198 yards on 79 catches and 10 touchdowns while Roddy White posted 92 receptions for 1351 yards and seven scores. Harry Douglas remains the #3 but there are few balls left over for him after all others are fed. This is a rare team that sports two top 20 wideouts if not top 10.

White has a sprained ankle and is not a lock to play. He has never missed a game in his career so it will be a surprise if he sits this out.

Jones settled for four catches for 75 yards in New Orleans last year. White turned in seven receptions for 114 yards though neither scored.

TIGHT ENDS: Tony Gonzalez returns for his 16 NFL season and at 37-years old this is really the final season. Hard to argue that he is not still effective when he turned in 93 catches for 930 yards and eight scores in 2012 - his best season in the last four years. Gonzalez had nice games against the Saints in 2012, scoring twice on his 11 catches for 122 yards in New Orleans. He later settled for only 58 yards on four catches but caught the only touchdown pass that week.

MATCH AGAINST THE DEFENSE: Rob Ryan has brought his 3-4 defense in but this was not only the worse defense in the NFL last year, it was one of the worst of all time. Plus Ryan's scheme in Dallas never made the Cowboys slow down their opponents passing too much even with pricey free agent and draft picks at cornerback. Assuming - and safely to me - that the Saints play inspired in their home opener, the Falcons will need to generate offense and that should help out the main three receivers plus Jackson. Ryan's defenses historically have been better against the run and Jackson should end up with more receptions in a game like this.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Steven Jackson needs to be a work horse who can also catch the ball. We need to see how much difference he can make to the offense than what Michael Turner did last year.

Gaining Fantasy Points ATL 7 12 7 6 3 22
Preventing Fantasy Points NO 32 32 31 26 24 13


1 ATL - 10 DAL -
2 @TB - 11 SF -
3 ARI - 12 @ATL -
4 MIA - 13 @SEA -
5 @CHI - 14 CAR -
6 @NE - 15 @STL -
7 BYE WEEK 16 @CAR -
8 BUF - 17 TB -
9 @NYJ - ----- ----- -----
News | Statistics | Roster
NO vs ATL Rush Catch Pass
QB Drew Brees 320,3
RB Mark Ingram 80,1
RB C.J. Spiller 70,1 3-20
WR Marques Colston 4-60,1

Pregame Notes: The Saints come off a nightmare season where their head coach was banned for the year and numerous other coaches and players had to sit out for varying numbers of weeks. The Saints were able to battle back to a 7-9 mark on the year and Drew Brees had a wonderful season thanks to a defense that could not stop Green Bay Preparatory Nunnery from posting 300 passing yards on them. Now that Sean Payton is back, the intention is to fix the defense (a work in progress) and to hopefully be able to run more often.

QUARTERBACKS: While Drew Brees fell back from his astronomic 2011 season, he still managed to throw for 5177 yards and 43 touchdowns with only 15 interceptions. Something about his defense giving away yards and scores like candy at Christmas. He now owns three of the six 5000 yard seasons and two of the top three. He's prolific and a slam dunk for big yardage every year. The defense is being worked on but there is zero fear that Brees is going to take it easy in any year, much less this year.

Brees passed for 298 yards and three scores against the visiting Falcons last year.

RUNNING BACKS: Chris Ivory is gone but he was really no better than the #3 back and maybe the #4. At least that pares it down to only a three-headed monster this year though numerous sources let on that Mark Ingram is as healthy and as impressive as he has been in the NFL (yes, said it last year too). Ingram is the primary back here such as it exists and led the team with five rushing scores and 602 rush yards. Darren Sproles hits 30-years of age but he comes off a nice season with 911 total yards and eight touchdowns. His 75 catches in 2012 were the second best of his career. Pierre Thomas comes off one his worst year with the Saints with just two touchdowns and only 105 carries.

The expectation going in is for more Ingram rushing - whatever that truly means - and for Sproles to remain effective at least one more year. I will only project for Ingram and Sproles but Thomas may be a factor this week and could end up worthy of projections later.

The Saints ran for 149 yards on the visiting Falcons last season with Chris Ivory (7-72, TD) and Mark Ingram (16-67) leading the way. Sproles did not play in that game though he later had 47 yards on five catches in Atlanta.

WIDE RECEIVERS: For being one of the most prolific passing offense of all time... make that THE most prolific passing offense ever... the wideouts here are certainly good but rarely great. Marques Colston is rock solid with the 1000 yard seasons from around 80 catches and he'll score around nine times. While a tremendous asset as a fantasy WR2, he never quite reaches into the top ten. Lance Moore comes off his first ever 1000 yard season (1041) and usually scores six or eight times himself. Good but never great. There has not been a decent #3 in New Orleans for several years but the rookie Kenny Stills and second-year player Nick Toon aim to change that. They are not worth projecting for at this point but are worth watching to see what develops. Both Moore and Colston are already 30-years old.

Moore had two nice showings against the Falcons last year with seven catches for 91 yards at home and later 123 yards on seven receptions in Atlanta. Colston was held to three catches for 26 yards at home though he scored once and later accounted for six catches for 71 yards.

TIGHT ENDS: Jimmy Graham enters his fourth season and while he suffered a wrist injury last year, he still managed to end up as the #1 tight end in non-reception point leagues. He caught 85 passes for 982 yards and nine scores. That was a step down from the 99-1310-11 stat line of 2011. Graham is the main weapon in the passing game that defenses have yet to manage to stop.

Graham was a beast against Atlanta last year when he ended with seven receptions for 142 yards and two touchdowns.

MATCH AGAINST THE DEFENSE: The Falcons defense has not changed much other than maybe swapping out John Abraham for Osi Umenyiora to help out the pass rush. Two divisional rivals meet and the past records almost are meaningless. This will be an inspired Saints offense this week and they already beat the Falcons in New Orleans in 2012. No reason to shy away from any normal fantasy start here though of most interest will be if the Saints do rely on Mark Ingram more since the Falcons biggest weakness is against the run.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Ingram got hype about being healthy and expanding his role in the offense. But can Drew Brees really hand it off that often to the same guy? He never has before now.

Gaining Fantasy Points NO 1 1 9 4 22 21
Preventing Fantasy Points ATL 10 26 6 16 12 3

WEEK 1 BAL at DEN (THU) GB at SF *NE at BUF *TB at NYJ

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