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Atlanta, GA - A season's worth of adversity dimmed the New Orleans Saints' high hopes for the first half of 2008, and the second half isn't off to a great start with key players still sidelined.

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The Atlanta Falcons, meanwhile, have a surprisingly rosy outlook after taking advantage of a soft schedule to reach the midway point in much better shape than expected.

Oddsmakers from SBG Global have made the Falcons –1 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 67% of bets for this game have been placed on the Falcons -1 (View NFL Football bet percentages).

The Saints look to overcome continued personnel issues and record back-to-back victories for the first time this season while the Falcons hope to continue their surprising play as the NFC South rivals square off at the Georgia Dome on Sunday.

New Orleans (4-4) entered the season expecting to compete for the division title, but a series of injuries at the skill positions contributed to the Saints' slow start and their fall to last place in the South.

Top receiver Marques Colston missed five games with a thumb injury, tight end Jeremy Shockey missed three following sports hernia surgery and still isn't 100 percent and running back Deuce McAllister was slowed early in the season while recovering from knee surgery.

Each of those players is expected to be on the field Sunday, but the Saints will still be without star running back Reggie Bush, who had arthroscopic surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his left knee in October. They'll also likely be missing No. 2 receiver David Patten, out since September with a groin injury.

"We understand in this league that nobody really cares," coach Sean Payton said of his team's first-half adversity. "I say that not in a negative way, but nobody wants to hear about your pains. It's getting to the point with injuries and other potential losses, we have to be able to handle that stuff and not let it negatively affect our team.

"We had set high goals. Fortunately for us we have a lot of football left, but we're going to have to play more consistently. I think anyone would see that."

While New Orleans is disappointed with its first half, Atlanta (5-3) is hoping to build on a surprising start that has already seen the Falcons surpass their win total from last season (4-12).

Three of Atlanta's wins came against Detroit, Kansas City and Oakland, teams that are a combined 3-21 halfway through the season. The Falcons hope their success carries over as the competition picks up in the coming weeks.

"You never want to have a letup," safety Erik Coleman said after the Falcons beat the Raiders 24-0 last Sunday. "Especially going into next week we want to continue to be consistent through four quarters.

"I think we did a great job of that on defense as well as offense. That helps build our confidence a little bit going into next week. We have a huge game playing against the Saints."

New Orleans has swept the last two season series with Atlanta, winning those four games by an average of 16.0 points. Saints quarterback Drew Brees, leading the NFL with 2,563 passing yards, has completed 91 of 133 passes for 1,087 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception during that win streak.

The Falcons are hoping to snap their skid against the Saints behind rookie quarterback Matt Ryan, who was 17-for-22 for 220 yards, two touchdowns and no picks in last week's victory. He led Atlanta on scoring drives on its first four possessions.

"We came out and scored three touchdowns on our first three drives and got the field goal on the fourth," Ryan said. "We had a good rhythm and a good momentum. I thought we did a good job in the no-huddle today. Most of all, our defense kept them from really doing anything on offense today, so it was an impressive effort by everybody."

The Saints struggled defensively in their last outing, but the NFL's most prolific offense with 403.1 total yards per game compiled 409 in a 37-32 win over San Diego in London on Oct. 26. Brees was 30-for-41 for 339 yards and three TDs.

To build on that win, the Saints may need to overcome more personnel issues. McAllister faces a possible four-game suspension because the weight-loss supplement he used yielded a positive test for a diuretic that is banned by the NFL.

Making matters worse, both starting defensive ends, Will Smith and Charles Grant, face potential punishment for the same violation. They'll all keep playing while their suspensions are under appeal, and there's no set time for how long that process can take. Payton sounded confident the three regulars at least would be available this week.

"I think we're beyond that right now," Payton said. "Without commenting on dates or specifics, I'm sure at some point there will be a hearing and there will be a decision made by the league and we'll go from there."

Top Betting Trends
All games in this series since 1992
ATLANTA is 20-12 against the spread versus NEW ORLEANS since 1992
ATLANTA is 17-15 straight up against NEW ORLEANS since 1992
16 of 32 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games over the last 3 seasons
NEW ORLEANS is 3-1 against the spread versus ATLANTA over the last 3 seasons 
NEW ORLEANS is 4-0 straight up against ATLANTA over the last 3 seasons 
3 of 4 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
All games played at ATLANTA since 1992
ATLANTA is 8-8 against the spread versus NEW ORLEANS since 1992
ATLANTA is 8-8 straight up against NEW ORLEANS since 1992
8 of 16 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games played at ATLANTA over the last 3 seasons.
NEW ORLEANS is 2-0 against the spread versus ATLANTA over the last 3 seasons 
NEW ORLEANS is 2-0 straight up against ATLANTA over the last 3 seasons 
1 of 2 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
Key Player Injuries
[WR] David Patten missed last game, "?" - Groin - 10/26/08
[DT] Montavious Stanley IR - Bicep - 10/20/08
[C] Jonathan Goodwin missed last game, "?" - Knee - 10/26/08
[CB] Jason David missed last game, "?" - Undisclosed - 10/26/08
(!) [RB] Reggie Bush expected to miss 3-4 weeks - Knee - 10/19/08
[PK] Martin Gramatica IR - Groin - 10/08/08
[LB] Mark Simoneau IR - Back - 09/12/08
[DT] Brian Young missed last game, "?" - Knee - 10/26/08
[CB] Tracy Porter IR - Wrist - 10/07/08
[C] Alex Stepanovich missed last game, "?" - Back - 10/26/08
[CB] Von Hutchins IR - Foot - 07/28/08
[cb] David Irons missed last game, "?" - Achilles - 10/27/08
[DE] Jamaal Anderson injured last game %27?%27 - Concussion - 10/27/08
[WR] Laurent Robinson missed last game, "?" - Knee - 10/26/08
[RB] Thomas Brown IR - Leg - 08/30/08
[OT] Sam Baker missed last game, downgraded to expected to miss. - Hip - 10/29/08

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Posted: 11/05/08 3:45 PM ET

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