When: Noon, Sunday
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome
Radio: WWL-AM, 870 in New Orleans; KMDL-FM, 97.3 in Lafayette; WDGL-FM, 98.1 in Baton Rouge
Records: The Saints are 6-8. The Falcons are 5-9.
Last week: Owners of a 4-0 record in the NFC South and a 1-9 mark outside of it, the Falcons trailed 13-0 and 20-7 before ultimately succumbing to the Steelers (9-5) at home by a score of 27-20 on Sunday. Falcons receiver Harry Douglas had 10 catches for 131 yards, and Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan was 26-for-37 for 310 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. It was not enough to overcome the Steelers, who got two TDs on the ground by starting running back Le’Veon Bell.
Meanwhile, the Saints had three interceptions and seven sacks in their 31-15 win at Chicago (5-9) on Monday night. Drew Brees passed for 375 yards and three touchdowns as the Saints won away from New Orleans for a third straight time.
Coaches: Falcons, Mike Smith, 7th season (65-45); Saints, Sean Payton, 8th season, (79-47)
(League rank in parentheses)
Total yards: Saints, 422.6 (2nd); Falcons, 382.9 (7th)
Passing: Saints, 301.8 (3rd); Falcons, 286.1 (5th)
Rushing: Saints, 120.6 (9th); Falcons, 96.7 (24th)
Points: Saints, 26 (9th); Falcons, 24.9 (10th)
Total yards: Saints, 390.1 (31st); Falcons, 409.9 (32nd)
Passing: Saints, 257.1 (T-26th); Falcons, 292.5 (32nd)
Rushing: Saints, 132.9 (29th); Falcons, 117.4 (20th)
Points: Saints, 26.7 (28th); Falcons, 26.4 (26th)
FALCONS: Quarterback Matt Ryan, wide receiver Julio Jones, wide receiver Roddy White, linebacker Paul Worrilow, linebacker Joplo Bartu, safety Kemal Ishmael, cornerback Desmond Trufant
SAINTS: Quarterback Drew Brees, running back Mark Ingram, wide receiver Marques Colston, tight end Jimmy Graham, linebacker Curtis Lofton, pass rusher Junior Galette, cornerback Keenan Lewis
Offense: A hip injury sidelined Falcons wideout Julio Jones in the loss to the Steelers, but the all-world player remains second in the NFL in receiving yards (1,428). The Saints did well containing the league leader in receiving yards, Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown, in a road win Nov. 30, but Jones will still be a tough test if he’s healthy — he had 116 yards on seven catches in a 37-34 win for Atlanta over New Orleans at the Georgia Dome on Sept. 7.
Of course, the player throwing the football to Jones — quarterback Matt Ryan — is pretty good, too. He’s passed for the fifth-most yards in the NFL (4,112) and is tied for the ninth-most touchdown passes (27), though his 12 picks so far this year show he can be interception-prone. Ryan had a career day against the Saints when last they met, passing for 448 yards and three touchdowns.
Aside from Jones, who has six touchdown catches, Ryan also has much success targeting veteran receiver Roddy White. White is second on the Falcons in receiving yards (762) and first in touchdown grabs (seven).
Defense: The Falcons are the only defense in the NFL that’s given up more yards per game as well as passing yards than the Saints. Expect to hear linebacker Paul Worrilow’s name be mentioned a lot because he’s among the league’s leader in tackles, though he is not regarded well by the analytics website Pro Football Focus. And safety Kemal Ishmael (four interceptions) can create takeaways, but the Saints offense should get its yards and points against this team.
Special teams: From between 20 and 49 yards out, Falcons kicker Matt Bryant is essentially automatic at 19-for-19. Though he’s less sure from 50 or more away (6-for-9), the Saints won’t want to give the veteran any feasible shot at any late kick that could be decisive. They know well how dicey of a proposition that is: In September, Bryant made a 51-yard field goal as regulation expired to force overtime with the Saints, and then he booted a sudden-death winner from 52 yards out in the extra period.
A. Forget the lackluster records the two archrivals have. The only way this game could carry more meaning for both the Saints and the Falcons is if it was in the playoffs. The Saints can eliminate the Falcons and clinch a division title as well as a berth in the playoffs if New Orleans wins and Carolina (5-8-1) loses to Cleveland (7-7).
At the other end of the spectrum (there are more scenarios in between not mentioned), Atlanta could eliminate the Saints with a win in New Orleans and a Carolina victory over Cleveland. In that case, the winner of a Carolina-Atlanta game Dec. 28 would win a division title and make the playoffs. A very unlikely tie would see Carolina through because of a divisional-record tiebreaker.
B. By winning their past three road games, the Saints have softened the effects their four-game home losing streak could otherwise have. But now they must halt that home skid or have their playoff hopes shatter. The good news, is Payton is 12-3 against the Falcons since becoming head coach of the Saints in 2006. He missed the teams’ two encounters in 2012, which the Saints and Falcons split, when he was suspended as a result of the bounty scandal.