NFC South Battle
New Orleans, LA - The Atlanta Falcons keep on winning, entering the season's home stretch in the driver's seat for a surprising playoff berth in the NFC.
The disappointing New Orleans Saints, meanwhile, are down to their last gasp at staying alive.
Oddsmakers from online sports book Sportsbook.com have made the Saints -3 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 64% of bets for this game have been placed on the Falcons +3 (View NFL Football bet percentages).
The last-place Saints will be desperate for a victory at home on Sunday when the Falcons try to complete a season sweep of their NFC South rivals and bolster their positioning in a crowded playoff chase.
When Atlanta (8-4) entered the season with a rookie starting at quarterback and a first-year coach guiding an overhauled roster, it didn't seem likely that the team would hold a two-game edge on the high-powered Saints (6-6) heading into their Week 14 matchup.
The Falcons have won six of their last eight, and while they trail Carolina and Tampa Bay by one game for the division lead, they are tied with Dallas for the NFC's final playoff spot. They hold the tiebreaker over the Cowboys with the better conference record.
"We're certainly in good position and we've got an opportunity, so we're excited about that," rookie quarterback Matt Ryan said.
The Falcons haven't won three straight games since the 2005 season, but coach Mike Smith's club will have that chance on Sunday after beating the Panthers and San Diego Chargers the past two weeks.
Last Sunday's 22-16 win in San Diego featured another strong performance from Ryan, who went 17-of-23 for 207 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. Ryan has been picked off just once in the last five games, with Atlanta winning four times over that span.
Former Charger Michael Turner carried 31 times for 120 yards against his old teammates, while Atlanta's run defense held San Diego star LaDainian Tomlinson to 24 yards on 14 carries - the second-lowest rushing output of his career.
The Falcons held the Chargers to a season-low 201 total yards, helping the team overcome three lost fumbles.
"I have to give credit to them," Tomlinson said. "We have been moving the ball pretty effectively on everybody. Today we couldn't move the ball, couldn't get first downs, couldn't run the ball and couldn't throw. Anytime that happens, that defense must be playing pretty good."
Atlanta certainly won't be able to cruise to the playoffs, with its next three games against teams at or over .500 and two of them on the road. The young Falcons, though, have won three of their last four road games, with Ryan boasting passer ratings over 130 in each of the past two.
"If we'll work the process and if the players continue to mature like the young guys are and the old guys keep leading, we're going to like the outcome of these last four football games," Smith said.
New Orleans likely needs to win all four of its remaining games to have a chance at the postseason. Not only do the Saints occupy the NFC South cellar, but they also trail Dallas, Washington and Philadelphia in the race for a wild-card spot.
"We sit here at 6-6 and it's disappointing," coach Sean Payton said. "... We have four weeks left and certainly understand how everyone else is playing ahead of us and that makes it much more challenging."
Drew Brees is on pace to break Dan Marino's single-season record for passing yards, leading the NFL with 3,870, but the Saints have been plagued by inconsistency on defense, allowing 29 or more points seven times this season.
They've also had problems with turnovers. Brees threw three interceptions in a 23-20 loss at Tampa Bay last Sunday, including two in the fourth quarter. The first one set up the Buccaneers' go-ahead field goal, and the second squandered the Saints' chance to counter.
"We had our perfect chances out there and we didn't take advantage of it," Brees said. "It's disappointing, very disappointing. It's probably one of the more disappointing losses I have ever been a part of."
Brees was also picked off three times in the Saints' 34-20 loss at Atlanta on Nov. 9, a game that snapped their four-game winning streak against the Falcons. New Orleans rolled up 521 total yards in that game - including 422 through the air from Brees - but Atlanta still picked up an easy win at the Georgia Dome.
The Saints have been much better in the Superdome, going 5-1. In their last three home games, they've turned the ball over just once while averaging more than 40 points.
Explosive back Reggie Bush returned from a knee injury against the Bucs, but now the Saints will be without running back Deuce McAllister and defensive end Will Smith for the rest of the regular season. McAllister and Smith, along with injured defensive end Charles Grant, were among six players suspended by the NFL Tuesday for the use of a banned diuretic.
Top Betting Trends:
All games in this series since 1992
ATLANTA is 21-12 against the spread versus NEW ORLEANS since 1992
ATLANTA is 18-15 straight up against NEW ORLEANS since 1992
17 of 33 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games over the last 3 seasons
NEW ORLEANS is 3-2 against the spread versus ATLANTA over the last 3 seasons
NEW ORLEANS is 4-1 straight up against ATLANTA over the last 3 seasons
3 of 5 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
All games played at NEW ORLEANS since 1992
ATLANTA is 12-4 against the spread versus NEW ORLEANS since 1992
ATLANTA is 9-7 straight up against NEW ORLEANS since 1992
8 of 16 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games played at NEW ORLEANS over the last 3 seasons.
NEW ORLEANS is 1-1 against the spread versus ATLANTA over the last 3 seasons
NEW ORLEANS is 2-0 straight up against ATLANTA over the last 3 seasons
2 of 2 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
Key Player Injuries
[OT] Sam Baker out indefinitely - Back - 10/29/08
[CB] Von Hutchins IR - Foot - 07/28/08
[RB] Thomas Brown IR - Leg - 08/30/08
[CB] Tracy Porter IR - Wrist - 10/07/08
[PK] Martin Gramatica IR - Groin - 10/08/08
[LB] Mark Simoneau IR - Back - 09/12/08
[FB] Mike Karney expected to miss 2 - 4 weeks - Knee - 11/10/08
[DE] Charles Grant IR - Tricep - 11/03/08
[DT] Brian Young IR - Knee - 11/16/08
[DT] Montavious Stanley IR - Bicep - 10/20/08
[TE] Mark Campbell injured last game, %27?%27 - Knee - 11/16/08
[C] Jonathan Goodwin missed last game, "?" - Knee - 11/14/08
(!) [RB] Reggie Bush missed last game, "?" - Knee - 11/16/08
[DB] Aaron Glenn missed last game, "?" - Ankle - 11/16/08
[CB] Mike McKenzie IR - Knee - 11/09/08
[RB] Aaron Stecker IR - Hamstring - 11/19/08
Posted: 12/3/08 4:01 PM ET