If the Saints can win this game, then they will clinch the NFC South and move one step closer to the No. 2 seed in the NFC. They will be playing against the division rival Falcons, who are fighting for a playoff berth.
Sean Payton, Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints are very difficult to beat on national television. Just ask the Packers, Colts, Giants, and Lions. The Saints are 3-1 in primetime this season and their only loss came by eight points. In nationally televised games this season, the Saints have outscored their opponents 176 to 90.
The Saints are a completely different monster when everyone is watching them. They have proved that time and time again and I do not expect anything less from them against the Falcons.
However, Atlanta is a hungry team and they need this win to solidify a playoff spot. If the Saints are not careful, the Falcons can come into New Orleans and steal a victory. There are plenty of key matchups in this game, but here are five that are crucial for the Saints.
The Saints defense has performed well lately, especially against the run.
They need to keep this performance up on Monday Night against Michael Turner and the Falcons. Atlanta's offense lives and breathes off of Turner's performance and one of their keys coming into this game is going to be to get him going early.
The Falcons' passing game depends heavily on how well Turner is running the ball and Matt Ryan is much better when he has the play action pass at his disposal. The Saints have been able to shut down two of the best backs in the NFL in consecutive weeks. They held Chris Johnson to 23 yards and Adrian Peterson to 60 yards.
In the Week 10 meeting, Turner ran for 96 yards on the Saints defense. He averaged 4.4 yards per carry, but the Saints were able to squeak out a win in overtime. They stopped Turner on a crucial fourth and short run in overtime, and they will need to come up big again on Monday.
The Saints are definitely capable of stopping the Falcons run game, and if the past few weeks are any indication, then it shows that they will.
The Saints offensive line has only allowed 23 sacks in all of 2011, which is fourth best in the NFL.
Jermon Bushrod anchored the Saints big uglies last week when they shut down Jared Allen and did not allow a single sack on Drew Brees. They will need a repeat performance this week to come away with a victory.
John Abraham is one of the best pass rushers in the league and he has been on fire lately. He is coming off of a game in which he had three-and-a-half sacks, and has five-and-half sacks in the last five games.
Bushrod was able to keep Abraham at bay in the Week 10 meeting. Abraham and the Falcons did not sack Brees in that game and only hit him twice. Bushrod has repeatedly shown that he is capable of handling big-time defensive ends.
Ray Edwards is also a threat at the left defensive end spot. He has not lived up to the hype this season, but he has the potential to wreak havoc at any point. He has one-and-a-half sacks in the last two games and he will be going up against Zach Strief this week. Strief has performed well this year, but has been picked on at times. He will need to step up in Week 16 against the Falcons.
The Falcons defensive tackles will have a tough time getting to Brees through the middle because they will more than likely be facing two All-Pro guards in Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks. Center Brian De La Puente is playing fantastically as well, and they will not be able to push him over.
There is a chance that Evans will not play due to injury, but even without Evans the Saints' interior line is one of the best in the NFL.
I look for the Saints to win this matchup, and they will have to if they want a win on Monday Night Football.
I believe that we should watch this matchup for only reason and that is to witness Drew Brees breaking Dan Marino's record for passing yards in a season.
Brees needs only 305 yards to break the record and this is the perfect opportunity to make history. In Week 10 against the Falcons, Brees threw for 322 yards and has been on fire lately. It would be shocking if Brees does not go over 300 yards in this game.
The Falcons have talent in the secondary, but they have not played very well in 2011. Atlanta currently has the 17th ranked passing defense and that will not be enough to slow down Brees and company.
The Saints No. 1 offense will steamroll the Falcons defense and Brees will cruise on his way to breaking another NFL record.
Brees and the Saints will undoubtedly win this matchup and, at this point, we expect nothing less.
I am watching this matchup because it will be interesting to see how an elite opponent can do late in the season at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The Atlanta Falcons have beaten the Saints at home as recently as last year and they will be trying to do that again in 2011. The Saints have played very well at home this season, especially in the national spotlight.
The Falcons are one of the most talented teams in the NFC and could very well be an opponent for the Saints in the playoffs. This season, the Saints are undefeated at home and they need to keep that streak going.
The Superdome is extremely loud and we need to see how much it affects the Falcons on Monday Night Football. This will be a great test to see what we can expect from the fans in the postseason.
The Saints should be able to wrap up the NFC South either this week or next week, and that will guarantee them at least one home playoff game. If they are able to grab the second seed in the NFC, then they will have a first round bye and a home playoff game.
The Superdome and home field advantage will be very important to the Saints on Monday Night and in the playoffs. The fans need to show what they are made of in Week 16.
The New Orleans Saints have run the ball very well recently.
Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory and Darren Sproles have done well carrying the ball out of the backfield and catching passes all year. If Mark Ingram is unable to play again this week, then Ivory will get the majority of the work between the tackles. Sproles and Thomas will come in to change the pace and catch passes out of the backfield.
Thomas and Sproles have the ability to take a screen pass to the end zone on any given play and Ivory is capable of coming in and wearing down the opposing defense throughout the game. It is very difficult to shut down the Saints running game, but the Falcons will be doing their best on Monday.
It is imperative that the Saints run the ball well early in this game. We have seen what the running game opens up for Drew Brees and the passing game. If the Saints establish themselves as a threat to run the ball, then it will be nearly impossible for Atlanta to pressure Brees or stop the pass game.
The Falcons have done well against the run this year. Atlanta is currently fourth in the NFL, allowing only 97 rushing yards per game.
However, teams like the Houston Texans were able to accumulate 162 rushing yards on the Falcons, and it led them to a victory.
The Saints will need a good performance in the running game to win on Monday Night. The Falcons know how dangerous Brees and the passing attack is and they will do everything they can to stop it. Brees cannot be stopped for long and the running game will allow Brees and company to click the whole game.
Sproles, Thomas and Ivory need to get to a fast start if the Saints want to win on Monday Night Football.