The Atlanta Falcons will have revenge on their mind as the New Orleans Saints come to the Georgia Dome. Both teams are coming off physical games and a short week. Both teams will have a lot riding on Thursday's prime-time showdown. This will be a make-or-break game.
Saints' Season In Balance
The last time New Orleans took on the Falcons, the Saints handed Atlanta its first loss. The Saints were turning their season around. That win stood as a potential launching pad for their playoff hopes. Then came the San Francisco 49ers loss. The Saints find themselves at 5-6, and their playoff hopes dimming. Dropping one more game will eliminate any hopes of recapturing the division title and endangers a wild-card spot.
The Saints will be confident they can restart their playoff push against Atlanta. After dominating the rivalry 11-2 since 2006, the Saints have enjoyed more success against the Falcons than any other team in the division. Despite being tight-lipped prior to the previous meeting, the Saints were far more verbal after their victory. Jonathan Vilma may have summed it up best when he said, "We always beat the Falcons."
That confidence will be needed to put an ugly loss behind them in a must-win situation.
Falcons Fight For Self Respect
The Atlanta Falcons own the best record in the NFL at 10-1. Most teams at this point would be eyeing home-field advantage in the playoffs rather than focusing on beating a team with a losing record. Thursday night's game is different. It rises above rivalry.
The Falcons will not be worried about bragging rights or NFL power rankings. The Saints have come to symbolize a roadblock. Like wins in the playoffs, the Saints have been a roadblock separating good from great. Atlanta needs this win for one simple reason: to prove it can do it.
Unlike any other team, the New Orleans Saints seem to get under the skin of the normally stable Atlanta Falcons. After an unusual amount of bravado heading into New Orleans earlier in 2012, the Atlanta Falcons were fed another bitter pill. Suffering through another "we'll get them next year" could set a poor tone for the final quarter of the season.
The Atlanta Falcons have looked sharper on the road than at home in 2012. This might not be an issue come Thursday. Saints fans have always traveled to Atlanta by the thousands during the long rivalry. Since 2006, the Saints fans' presence has increased both in quantity and audibly. Expect plenty of noise when Matt Ryan and Atlanta's offense are on the field.
How Atlanta's confidence at home mixes with the divided crowd may have an impact on the game. The Falcons will have to stay focused, or the Saints will be snapping photos after the game yet again.