When this year's schedule came out, it appeared likely that the Saints and the Falcons could be playing for first place in the NFC South tomorrow night.
Only the Saints will be, hoping to remain the sole leader of the division after week 12. The Falcons' motivation is far less lofty...hoping to avoid a loss that would eliminate last year's top seed in the NFC from the division race with five games to go.
'Playing for pride' is virtually all the Falcons have left to play for. The Falcons have more problems than Atlanta streets have peach trees. These are but some:
No area of the team requires more continuity than the offensive line. In last week's embarrassment in Tampa, three of the five offensive linemen were benched at one time or another in the loss. Matt Ryan suffered three sacks and two interceptions. He's been pressured on 40% of his drop-backs this season while throwing 8 interceptions in his last 4 games --- all losses.
Defensively they allowed a hitherto unknown running back named Bobby Rainey to rush for 163 yards and three touchdowns for the Bucs. Also benched in the second half of that loss was Pro Bowl safety Thomas DeCoud whose replacement, a rookie drafted in the seventh round, promptly broke his finger.
The Falcons have the second worst defense on third down in the NFL. Drew Brees is the number one passer in the NFL throwing for first downs on third down.
But this game, coming where it does under the circumstances, remains a dangerous one for the Saints. Short week, having to travel, coming off a physical and emotional win over the 49ers with another straight ahead in Seattle.