The Atlanta Falcons control their own destiny in the race for the NFC South title after holding off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday for their fifth win in the last six games. The New Orleans Saints, who host the Falcons on Sunday, are a game up on Atlanta in the division and will clinch a playoff berth while moving one step closer to an NFC South title with a victory.
The NFC South could end up sending three teams to the playoffs along with the Carolina Panthers, and the Falcons brought themselves into this position by figuring out how to win tight games in the last two weeks, including a 20-17 triumph at home over New Orleans in Week 14. “We are right where we need to be at this time of the season,” Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan told reporters. “Two games to go in the regular season, and we have to find a way to get back to work this week, try to improve and make sure that we play the best we are capable of playing (Sunday) to try and get a win.” The Saints followed that loss to the Falcons with a 31-19 triumph over the New York Jets last week and are trying not to assign extra importance to this week’s meeting. “There is not really emotion,” wide receiver Michael Thomas told reporters. “There are going to be games that are probably more important than others, but at the end of the day they’re all pretty much important.”
TV: 1 p.m. ET, FOX. LINE: Saints -5.5. O/U: 52.5
ABOUT THE FALCONS (9-5): Atlanta leaned on its rushing attack in a 24-21 win over the Buccaneers on Monday as Devonta Freeman ran for a season-high 126 yards and a touchdown. Freeman rushed for 91 yards and a score in the win over the Saints, helping to make up for a three-interception performance from Ryan. The reigning NFL MVP is up to 3,490 yards and 18 TDs on the season but is already at 11 interceptions - four more than his total from last season - and was left off the Pro Bowl rosters announced on Tuesday.
ABOUT THE SAINTS (10-4): New Orleans became the first team in 42 years to have two running backs make the Pro Bowl when Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara were announced as two of the team’s six representatives. The two are on pace to become the first duo in NFL history to each go over 1,500 yards from scrimmage and are already at a combined 2,756 yards from scrimmage and 23 touchdowns. Neither back managed 100 yards from scrimmage in the Week 14 loss to the Falcons, and Kamara totaled just 27 yards on four touches before leaving the contest with a concussion.
1. The Saints placed LB A.J. Klein on IR with a groin injury.
2. Falcons WR Julio Jones and C Alex Mack were each named to the Pro Bowl for the fifth time.
3. Atlanta took the last three and five of the last seven in the series.
PREDICTION: Saints 28, Falcons 24