Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Bernard Reedy (89) gets away from Jacksonville Jaguars safety Sherrod Martin (25) in the fourth quarter of their game at EverBank Field. The Atlanta Falcons won 24-14. (USA TODAY Sports: Phil Sears)
The Atlanta Falcons would rather forget that the 2013 season happened and will be quick to turn the page when they host the New Orleans Saints in the season opener at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
The Falcons were decimated by injuries last season and watched the offense go from one of the most prolific in the league to one of the worst. The Saints are hoping to build off a trip to the divisional round of the postseason last January and are again stacked on offense.
Only in the modern NFL can a season in which a quarterback throws for over 4,500 yards and 26 touchdowns be a disappointment, but that is exactly what Atlanta’s Matt Ryan is attempting to improve upon in 2014. Ryan threw a career-high 17 interceptions and was sacked a career-most 44 times to go along with those 4,515 yards and 26 scores in 2013, so Atlanta gave him some protection in the form of No. 6 overall pick left tackle Jake Matthews. Ryan will also be working with a healthy Julio Jones and Roddy White after the two top targets combined to miss 14 games in 2013.
The Falcons are also hoping a return to health for Steven Jackson can boost a running game that provided Ryan little support. “I’ve been working hard physically and mentally to prepare for this coming Sunday,” Jackson told reporters. “I feel good about it.”
The Saints had its struggles scoring on the road last season but is always better in a dome like Atlanta, where it has earned the win in six of the last eight trips. New Orleans’ struggles on the road in the regular season led to the team missing out on home-field advantage in the playoffs, and the Saints ended up losing at Seattle in the divisional round after a surprising victory in Philadelphia.
Drew Brees lost one of his main weapons when Darren Sproles departed to Philadelphia in the offseason but tight end Jimmy Graham is still around to prop up the passing game and the defense is coming off a top-five season.
The big turnaround for the team came on the defensive side of the ball, where Rob Ryan rebuilt one of the worst units in the league. The defensive coordinator received a new toy in safety Jairus Byrd, who will be expected to create more turnovers for a pass defense that ranked second in the NFL in 2013.
PREDICTION: Saints 28, Falcons 24