NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - If the schedule-maker in the NFL wanted to prolong the drama and the excitement of a division race as long as possible, mission accomplished when it comes to the NFC South.
As we head into the penultimate weekend of the regular season, all three contenders - the Saints, Falcons and Panthers - could win the division or miss the playoffs entirely.
To the winner of Sunday's Saints-Falcons game goes a wild card playoff berth at the least with one more game to play.
If both the Saints and the Falcons were looking ahead to this game one week ago, no one could blame them.
Each was challenged in wins over the New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, failing to cover the spread against heavy underdogs.
There will be no lack of focus this week as the two bitter rivals collide for the second time in three weeks, something they have never had to do.
If familiarity breeds contempt, there are no rivals more contemptuous of each other than these.
The Saints were beaten and beaten up in the narrow 20-17 loss in Atlanta back on December 7. In the course of it, the Saints lost nine players at least briefly to injury, five of whom who did not return.
By my count, there are eight Saint regulars on injured reserve. By my count, the Falcons have none - ZERO.
But you have to play the hand you're dealt, even if, for just the Saints, it's a bandaged one.
It's Christmas Eve. A time of peace on Earth, goodwill to men… There will be lots of time for that later.
Stay up with Jim Henderson - The Voice of the Saints - by downloading the FOX 8 Final Play App.