Two different records that tell two completely different stories: 8-0 and 3-5. Should be an easy win for the undefeated team, right?
Not so much.
The Falcons will look to put the Saints out of their misery and squash any hope of making the playoffs, while the Saints—coming off an impressive Monday night win over the Philadelphia Eagles—are looking to make a late season push to make the playoffs.
Before the Monday night game against the Eagles, a lot of people wrote off the Saints' season. Well, that can change with a victory over the undefeated Falcons.
Yes, the Falcons are undefeated. But does that make it impossible for a team like the Saints to beat them? Of course not. The Saints really stepped up against the Eagles and executed well. They need to carry that into Sunday's game.
The following are 10 keys to the game for New Orleans.
One of the Saints' problems on offense was their lack of a running game. Last year, they had one of the top rushing attacks. This year? Not too concerning for opposing defenses.
Last week against the Eagles, the Saints' running game came to life. Their running backs combined for a total of 140 yards on the ground.
There was a Chris Ivory sighting last Monday night, and he showed the Saints he deserves more carries. Ivory ran 10 times for 48 yards and a touchdown, getting 4.8 yards per carry. Both Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas also did nice jobs, averaging 6.3 yards and 7.3 yards per carry, respectively.
The Falcons have been struggling against the run recently so the Saints have to continue to run the ball well, so they can control the clock, control the pace of the game while keeping the Falcons' offense on the sideline and keeping their defense rested and ready to go once they're back on the field.
Receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones are a dangerous duo. The Saints' secondary will have their hands full with these two guys.
This season, Roddy White has 47 receptions for 709 yards and four touchdowns. The Saints' secondary must step up and limit big plays from the receiver.
Julio Jones has 40 receptions for 628 yards and five touchdowns. Another dangerous receiver that has the ability to hurt you after the catch, he can make the back-breaking big plays.
It will be almost impossible to shut down both of these receivers. The secondary just has to play physical and limit the receivers on their yards after the catch.
This won't be like last week's game against Michael Vick and the Eagles. One of the reasons the Saints won is because of the constant pressure they gave Vick. All night long, they were destroying Vick, no thanks to the Eagles' horrible offensive line.
The Falcons will be a different story. Their offensive line is better, and unlike Vick, Falcons' quarterback Matt Ryan is having a great season. Ryan has been accurate, throwing for 2,360 yards and 16 touchdowns.
The Saints' front four defensive linemen must show up to this game. They must put consistent pressure on Ryan and not allow him to just sit in the pocket with all the time in the world to pick apart the Saints' secondary. Cameron Jordan, coming off the best game of his career against the Eagles, must continue that domination on Sunday and get to Ryan.
Matt Ryan is good at beating the blitz. The defense can't rely too much on blitzes, so they need the coverage to limit and slow down Ryan's receivers.
The Saints' success will always go through No. 9.
The Atlanta Falcons' pass defense is ranked 14th in the league. If the Saints have any chance of beating their rivals, Drew Brees must be near perfect. With a Brees vs. Ryan matchup, it is going to be a shootout. Brees has to be sharp and out-duel Matt Ryan, especially in the event their running backs forget to show up.
Brees had a shaky start to the 2012 season, but has progressed each game. The Saints need big numbers from the quarterback this Sunday.
Age has not affected the Falcons defensive end John Abraham at all. He is still the same dangerous pass-rusher he was when he first entered the league.
Through eight games, Abraham leads the Falcons for sacks, on pace for another double-digit season in the sack category. He has produced seven sacks, 20 tackles and three forced fumbles.
The Saints' offensive tackles have to stop or limit the lineman from getting to and/or disrupting Brees.
The Falcons' tight end has not slowed down.
Tony Gonzalez is still a huge part of the Falcons' offense. This season, he has accounted for 50 receptions for 495 yards and four touchdowns.
The 12-time Pro Bowler's receptions have to be limited. The Saints' linebacker corp and their safeties have to put some good coverage on him. Gonzalez is a big guy, so the defense has to wrap up: they can't afford to have more missed tackles.
The Saints are playing their rivals at home at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. A dome that will be filled with thousands of 'Who Dat' faithful, donned in black and gold. It's going to be rowdy and it's going to get loud.
This season, quarterback Matt Ryan has played a lot better outdoors compared to indoors. Is it the noise? The environment?
Indoors, Ryan seems to be more mistake-prone. He has thrown for six touchdowns but has also thrown four interceptions and was sacked 12 times.
The Superdome has to be rocking and make it as uncomfortable as possible for the Falcons' quarterback. And the Saints have to take advantage of that.
Interim head coach Joe Vitt has to call the perfect game. The Atlanta Falcons are going into the Saints' home, looking to shoot down their playoff hopes.
The Falcons have the offensive firepower to blow the Saints away. Vitt has to make any necessary game time adjustments and try to one-up Falcons head coach Mike Smith. Vitt has to mix up his the play calling and keep the Falcons on their heels.
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo also has to be on his game. As mentioned before, he has to stay away from calling too many blitzes or Matt Ryan will burn them. Spagnuolo has his hands full with weapons such as Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez.
Tight end Jimmy Graham needs to have a big game. He needs to add that extra weapon that Brees and the offense knees to keep the Falcons' defense on its toes.
Graham, suffering from a case of the dropsies this season with six drops, can't afford any for this important game against the Falcons. One drop may be cause a swing of the game that may hurt the Saints. It can be a drop on an important third down, or a drop in the end zone.
In a game like this, everything counts.
The Atlanta Falcons have been decent at creating turnovers. The Saints can't turn the ball over against the Falcons and their offense.
The Falcons have forced 10 fumbles, recovering seven of those. They also have 10 interceptions in the season. If the Saints can manage to take care of the football, they have a good chance to go toe-to-toe with the undefeated team and beat them.