Could the Atlanta Falcons Upset the New Orleans Saints?

COMMENTARY |The New Orleans Saints are a trendy pick to make the Super Bowl. Many might think that coming into Atlanta to play the struggling Falcons, who lost by nearly two touchdowns to the hapless Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Saints should be more than a six point favorite.

Ironically, six points was the margin of victory when the two teams met on the first weekend of the season. Had Stephen Jackson not dropped a touchdown catch in the Red Zone at the end of the game, the Falcons would have one more “W” in the won/loss record.

Of course, the Atlanta Falcons don’t have many of their weapons healthy. Receiver Julio Jones and defender Sean Witherspoon are out. Stephen Jackson, the running back, is recovering and we still don’t know whether receiver Roddy White is back 100%.

But the Saints, owners of a fine record and season, aren’t in tip-top shape themselves. They did beat the slumping San Francisco 49ers, but needed a lot of help and luck to do so. They narrowly beat Tampa and lost to the New York Jets. It depends on which team shows up.

Atlanta is a different team when they are at home than on the road. In the Georgia Dome, the Falcons have won twice and lost three times, for an overall point differential of -3.4 points. On the road, the team loses by an average of nearly two touchdowns (-12.2 points).

Since I am a statistics geek (think Big Bang Theory, only for politics and sports instead of physics and engineering), I ran a t-test calculator for two independent means. The two point differentials are not significant, but only because of the Seattle game outlier, where the Falcons seemed to quit from the start against the Seahawks, losing by 23 points. Other losses were by seven and two points.

Should the Falcons feel that it is better to pack it in and play for a draft pick, like they seemed to do against Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks, they’ll get thrashed again. But if they play for pride, realizing that the team will still get an offensive lineman or defender they’ll need when the team returns a number of stars who will finally be healthy next season, Atlanta will give its dwindling fan base something to cheer about on Thursday night.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga., about an hour south of the Georgia Dome. Hewrites about the Falcons,attends Atlanta Falcons gamesor catches them on TV. the image is from a New Orleans Saints coffee mug.

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