FALCONS FLIGHT: Win over Saints will clinch division, top seed

The Falcons have clinched a spot in the playoffs, but they need one more win to clinch the NFC South and the No. 1 seed in the conference. Seems easy enough, but if they want to wrap up the division this week, they will have to take down the New Orleans Saints at the Georgia Dome tonight.

The Saints are coming off a tough 30-24 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. However, New Orleans has won six of their last eight games and need one more win to clinch a playoff spot. Plus, they want to get some revenge on the Falcons after losing to them in overtime back in September.

But the Falcons are on a roll winning eight consecutive games, which is the longest current streak in the NFL and the Falcons’ longest winning streak since 1998 when they reached the Super Bowl. They have won their games a number of ways, such as last-second heroics on offense, special teams plays or just total domination on both sides of the ball.

In order for the Falcons to sweep the Saints, Matt Ryan, Michael Turner and Roddy White will have to play at a high level. In the first meeting between the two rivals, all three played well against an aggressive New Orleans defensive front. Ryan threw for 228 yards and two touchdowns, Turner ran for 114 yards and one touchdown and White caught five balls for 69 yards and one score. Since then, the three skill players are having Pro Bowl caliber seasons. Ryan has thrown for 3,321 yards and 25 touchdowns, Turner has rushed for 1,256 yards and 11 touchdowns and White has caught 106 passes for 1,284 yards and eight touchdowns.

As good as the offense has been, the defense has seemed to be playing better as the season progresses. When the teams first played in September, Drew Brees was able to throw for 365 yards and three touchdowns. But he did throw two costly interceptions and their running game could never get going, as Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas rushed for a combined 43 yards on 16 carries. Jonathan Babineaux and John Abraham each notched a sack in the win while Brent Grimes and Thomas DeCoud were the guys that intercepted Brees’ passes. All have continued to play at a high level, especially Abraham and Grimes. Abraham leads the team in sacks with 12 and Grimes leads the team in interceptions with five. Grimes was recently named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against the Seattle Seahawks. He had three tackles, one interception and five passes defended in the win.

Some more good news for the Falcons is they should come into the game as healthy as they could be when it comes to the fourth quarter of the season. White, Abraham, Babineaux, Curtis Lofton, Ovie Mughelli and Eric Weems were all on the injury report and listed as questionable. But they all fully participated in practice on Friday and should be ready to go on Monday night.

Because the Saints lost against Baltimore last week, the game is not as big for the Falcons as it could have been. Even if they lose to New Orleans, the Saints will have to win against Tampa Bay next week and hope the Falcons lose to the Carolina Panthers in order to win the NFC South for the second consecutive year. So the Falcons control their own destiny when it comes to clinching the division and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Regardless, it should be another compelling game between two hated rivals. The NFL could not ask for anything better to end the Monday Night Football season.

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