November 25, 2012; Tampa, FL, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) catches the pass for a touchdown as Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Leonard Johnson (29) defends during the second half of the game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-US PRESSWIRE

Thursday Night NFC South Fight: Saints at Falcons

Tonight, we have a hot divisional rivalry game when the New Orleans Saints play in the Georgia Dome against the Atlanta Falcons.

Historically, the Falcons are one of the toughest teams at home. I’ve said that the Seattle Seahawks have the best home field advantage of anyone in the NFL for a while now, I’d say Atlanta’s in the top-3. The Falcons are 5-0 at home this season despite the game that the Panthers should have won if not for Haruki Nakamura’s 6-inch vertical “leap” or Cam’s fumble on a third down game-sealing run. But let’s not get TOO off-topic here.

My point is that despite their lofty 10-1 record, the Falcons are vulnerable. New Orleans has begun to hit their stride now that they’ve had time to digest Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnulo’s complex defensive scheme. They’ve also gotten assistant/2012 Head Coach Joe Vitt back off the Bountygate suspension and have gone from the league’s worst record early to respectability and a 5-6 record.

Considering they had an 0-5 start to the season, being 5-6 at this point means they are playing like…well, Saints on a mission. They’re a team on the rise for sure.

Conversely, the Falcons’ record belies some of their weaknesses. They’ve been able to win with offense in general while usually getting out to a lead in most of their games, which overshadows their weakness against the run. The Saints aren’t exactly known to be a “pound the rock” offense by any means, but did you see Chris Ivory’s TD run a couple of weeks ago? Impressive.

This should be a long game, as the Falcons are second and the Saints fifth in passing offense. It wouldn’t surprise me to see 80+ passes thrown all together tonight.

The defensive side is where the differences lie. The Falcons are 14th overall and the Saints are (still) dead last in the NFL. It just seems like the Saints have played better defense in the last few weeks especially, though.

Having said that, I expect both defenses to give up a lot of yardage and a number of big plays, especially if Julio Jones can break his “home funk” that he’s been in this season. Whatever the case, both teams simply have too many weapons on offense to concentrate much on anyone.

If anyone can beat the Falcons in the ‘dome it’ll be New Orleans. The Saints also play in a dome at home, so that much is something they’re accustomed to doing. The Falcons have future HOF TE Tony Gonzalez; the Saints have a possible future HOF TE in Jimmy Graham. Remember, it’s only his third season and he set the bar for TEs with last year’s stats: 99 receptions 1,310 yards and 11 TDs. He’s been hobbled by minor injuries this season, but still has 8 TDs as it is and at 6’7″ and 265 pounds, he’s physically very similar to the Pats’ Rob Gronkowski.

It should be a wonderfully entertaining game for those of you (like me) who have access to the NFL Network. You may be able to catch it streaming on

Indeed, we get to see two hot teams playing. When you consider that the Tampa Bay Bucs are starting to put things together and are in second place at 6-5, it’s apparent that the Panthers have no shot at the postseason if they miraculously won out from here.

The real playoff implications at this point are between the Saints and Bucs. If the Saints win, they’ll be .500 after that horrible start and are a team nobody wants to play. At 6-5, the Bucs have a chance for a Wild Card spot as well. It’ll be interesting to see who winds up in second behind Atlanta, barring a complete collapse by the latter.

Oh – the final score? It’ll probably be up there. I’m thinking…

Saints 35, Falcons 31

Then again, the Falcons are a healthier team. I guess I’m going on gut feelings but I just don’t think the Falcons are quite as good as you would think a 10-1 team is. The Saints are playing inspired football and did hand the Falcons their only loss in week 10. 31-27, in the Superdome.

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Tags: Atlanta Falcons New Orleans Saints Saints At Falcons

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