Falcons, Saints meet with a lot at stake

Coach Mike Smith (left), quarterback Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons face New Orleans on Monday night.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — The Saints will try to clinch the division title and the Falcons will try to lock down a playoff spot when the teams meet on Monday night.


New Orleans (11-3) has a two-game lead over Atlanta (9-5) in the NFC South. The Saints, who have clinched a playoff berth, also would bolster their plans for a home game in the playoffs by beating the Falcons in New Orleans.

The Falcons could clinch a playoff berth and preserve their hopes of winning the division by beating the Saints. If the Falcons win their last two regular-season games and the Saints lose two in a row, Atlanta would win the NFC South by having a better record against division teams.

“We control what we can control,” said Falcons coach Mike Smith on Monday. “It’s obvious our guys are familiar with the scenarios we are in.”

The Saints hope to earn the No. 2 seed in the NFC. With that comes a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the second round.

“The sky’s the limit and that’s where we’re trying to get to,” said Saints safety Roman Harper. “Our goal is nothing less than a victory in the Super Bowl, and right now we just trying to stay focused and take it one step at a time.”

The Falcons, coming off Thursday night’s win over Jacksonville, have extra time to prepare for the Saints. Losses by the Giants and Bears on Sunday helped to solidify Atlanta’s wild-card hopes.

Smith said he won’t have to talk to his players about what will be on the line in New Orleans.

“I know our guys are aware of it,” he said. “We’re not going to change our preparation, how we prepare. We try to be as steady as we can and just continue to move forward like we have all season.”

The Falcons close their regular season with a home game against Tampa Bay on Jan. 1. The Saints close with a home game against Carolina.

“I think it’s going to be a very interesting two weeks for a lot of teams,” Smith said. “The way the schedule is put together with all the division teams playing one another, I think it makes for a great finish to the regular season.”

The Saints have a six-game winning streak. Atlanta has won two in a row.

Atlanta and Detroit (9-5) are the NFC wild-card leaders. The Falcons’ 23-16 win at Detroit on Oct. 23 gives Atlanta the tie-breaker over the Lions for the No. 5 seed in the current playoff standings.



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