NFL Preview: New Orleans Saints travel to Georgia Dome to face Atlanta Falcons
By Paul Higham Twitter: @SkySportsPaulH. Last Updated: 30/11/12 6:58am
No love lost: Atlanta and New Orleans not the best of friends
With their last meeting still fresh in the memory, the rematch between NFC South rivals New Orleans and Atlanta should be a real firecracker at the Georgia Dome on Thursday night - live on Sky Sports.
The struggling Saints spoilt the Falcons' perfect 8-0 start to the season with a 31-27 win in New Orleans on November 11, and comments from Atlanta players refusing to give their opponents credit already lit the fuse for this rematch.
At 10-1, Atlanta can seal a play-off berth by remaining unbeaten at home as long as Tampa Bay fail to win in Denver, while the Saints at 5-6 are only just still in play-off contention and fast running out of chances to prolong their season.
"The margin for error is very slight right now. We've kind of used up our nine lives," said Saints quarterback Drew Brees. "So we've got to really bear down here and just understand what's at stake every time we step on the field."
Despite differing fortunes this season, the Saints have a great record against their divisional foes with four wins in a row against Atlanta, 11 wins out of the last 13 and three consecutive victories on the road - while Brees is 5-1 away at the Falcons as a Saints starter.
Brees threw three touchdowns and 298 yards in the win over Atlanta, but they lost their winning run against San Francisco on Sunday and their defence is the NFL's worst in allowing a whopping 455 yards a game.
The Saints' defence did restrict the 49ers to a season's best 375 yards though, and they stifled Atlanta's run game in their last contest when limiting them to just a meagre 46 rushing yards.
"We need to carry that into Atlanta because this is another good offense that we're facing and we don't have a lot of time to prepare," said Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. "We are getting better as a unit. It is coming together."
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan suffered a huge meltdown with five interceptions against Arizona, even though the Falcons still managed the win, but he bounced back by leading them to a one-point win in Tampa Bay last week.
Ryan is 1-2 at home against the Saints though and will be looking to do better than his last game when three trips to the red zone late on resulted in just two field goals and ultimately their first and only defeat of the season.
The Falcons tend to scrape over the line rather than blow teams away - ranking sixth in total offence and eighth in scoring, so it could once again come down to fine margins.