Falcons-Saints Preview

The New Orleans Saints have already secured a spot in the

playoffs, but they still have plenty to play for in the final two

weeks of the regular season.

The Atlanta Falcons still have a chance to overtake the Saints

for the NFC South crown but no longer have to worry about their

place in the postseason.

Needing a win to clinch their second division title in three

years, the Saints look to continue their recent success against the

Falcons on Monday night at the Superdome.

Riding a season-high six-game winning streak, New Orleans (11-3)

is postseason-bound for a third consecutive year. Hoping to earn a

first-round bye, the Saints can wrap up the South title with a

third straight win over second-place Atlanta (9-5).

“The sky’s the limit and that’s where we’re trying to get to,”

New Orleans safety Roman Harper said. “Our goal is nothing less

than a victory in the Super Bowl, and right now we just trying to

stay focused and take it one step at a time.”

The Falcons, meanwhile, clinched at least a wild-card spot

thanks to Chicago’s loss to Green Bay on Sunday night. If they win

their final two games while New Orleans drops two straight, they

would claim a second consecutive South title by virtue of a better

division record.

Atlanta concludes the regular season at home versus Tampa Bay

while New Orleans hosts Carolina.

“We control what we can control,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said.

“It’s obvious our guys are familiar with the scenarios we are in. I

know our guys are aware of it. We’re not going to change our

preparation, how we prepare. We try to be as steady as we can and

just continue to move forward like we have all season.”

Though the Falcons have had more than enough time to prepare for

their division rival since posting a 41-14 home win over

Jacksonville on Dec. 15, they face a huge challenge against the

NFC’s hottest team.

The Saints, who totaled 573 yards in a 42-20 road rout of

Minnesota last Sunday, have scored at least 31 points in three of

their last four games. They have not allowed more than 24 points

during the six-game winning streak that has followed a 31-21 defeat

at St. Louis on Oct. 30.

“We’re peaking at the right time,” linebacker Jonathan Vilma

said. “I’m talking about jelling as far as a team – offense,

defense, special teams.”

Drew Brees went 32 of 40 for 412 yards and matched a season high

with five touchdowns against the lowly Vikings. With an NFL-leading

4,780 passing yards, Brees is 305 shy of breaking Dan Marino’s

single-season NFL record (5,084) set in 1984.

“I’m as comfortable now in this offense as I’ve ever been,”

Brees said. “I’m aware that we’re close. I just know if we keep

doing what we’re doing all of that stuff will take care of

itself.”

Brees improved to 9-3 against the Falcons after throwing for 322

yards and two touchdowns in a 26-23 overtime win at Atlanta on Nov.

13.

New Orleans has won two straight and nine of 11 against Atlanta,

but needed overtime to win their first 2011 meeting and lost 27-24

at home to the Falcons in 2010. Each of the last four games between

the teams has been decided by three points – three of them won by

the Saints.

“We’re going to play a very good opponent and someone we’re very

familiar with in a game that obviously has a lot riding on it,”

New Orleans coach Sean Payton said. “We look forward to that

challenge and we’ll go from there.”

Atlanta had little trouble taking care of the Jaguars, one week

after rallying from a 16-point second-half deficit to win 31-23 at

Carolina. In a span from the start of the third quarter at Carolina

to the 2:12 mark of the third versus Jacksonville, the Falcons

scored 65 unanswered points – though it did come against a pair of

teams with a combined 9-19 record.

“That’s what we need,” said quarterback Matt Ryan, who has

thrown seven touchdowns without an interception over the last two

weeks. “That’s the kind of football we need to play moving forward,

and I think it’s good that we’re doing it at this time.”

Roddy White caught 10 passes for 135 yards and two TDs against

the Jaguars. It was the third time in five games he recorded at

least 120 receiving yards. White, who has five touchdowns in those

five contests, has averaged 112.8 yards and scored three times

during his last four games against the Saints.

Teammate Michael Turner has rushed for 265 yards and two TDs on

50 carries in his last two games at the Superdome.