Well, it’s finally here Ladies and Gentlemen, the enormous Monday Night Football showdown with one of the greatest rivalries in sports. Many will point to the legendary NFC East or NFC North when mentioning NFL’s best enemy battles, but the bitter (and long-standing) rivalry between the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints should rank as not only one of the best matchups in the NFL, but in all of sports. Maybe it hasn’t always been extremely relevant in the past with mixed success of both teams, but it always has been a serious and hard-fought rivalry. The relevancy is much more obvious now. The Falcons and Saints recent success should vault the NFC South to one of toughest divisions in the NFL, even if it is often ignored by the mainstream media. ESPN at least knew exactly what they were doing when they circled the Falcons-Saints game in The Georgia Dome for one of their last matchups. The new order of having rivalry games at the end of the season worked out perfect for the NFL and overall television viewership. Not too much needs to be said on this one. Two of the best teams in the National Football League, two NFC powerhouses, one defending Super Bowl Champion, a Monday Night appearance, national implications, and a possible division title and home-field advantage on the line. Put directly, it doesn’t get much bigger than this folks. Six searing questions from the gigantic battle on Monday Night Football……..
Most will scoff at this question since, as mentioned above, it doesn’t get much bigger than this, but a slight caveat enters into the fold. The Falcons technically don’t need this game to win the NFC South title and lock up home-field advantage with the #1 seed for the playoffs. Due to tiebreaker rules, all the Falcons have to do is win one of the next two games to get what they want. After the Saints Monday Night matchup, the Falcons will host the lowly Carolina Panthers with one of the worst records in the entire league. All that being said though, you have to figure that this group of players have penciled this one in a long time ago, much like the fans. Most knew how important this one would be when the schedule was released. Although the Birds have finally started to gain respect from the ditto-talking heads in the media, there’s still a sense that they’re not the most “hyped team,” regardless of record. Judging by Roddy White’s Twitter smack talking (see below), the Birds not only want to finish the drill so to speak against the hated Saints, but also want to prove once and for all that they’re for real and have a legitimate shot at the whole darn thing. This one will have a playoff atmosphere and the Falcons are ready for their true test.
Not taking anything whatsoever away from the Falcons on their huge victory in New Orleans early in the season because injuries are absolutely a part of the game, just ask the 2009 Atlanta Falcons. However, the Saints were a good bit banged up in their first meeting missing Reggie Bush, Darren Sharper, and lost Pierre Thomas during the game as well. Rookie Chris Ivory was just getting his bearings and Marques Colston had little to no impact, even though he was healthy. The Saints reeled off 7 straight wins before their loss to the Ravens in Baltimore last weekend. The first victory took everything the Falcons had to get the W in overtime. Many thought the Saints would spiral in irrelevancy after stunning losses to the Cardinals and Browns. That hasn’t happened and the Falcons have won 8 straight games and even tied an NFL record for most consecutive road wins. Every one expects an all-out, bare-knuckled fight on Monday Night, but Falcons fans have learned to stop being so nervous.
One of the questions going into the Seahawks game was whether the defensive line’s surge of good pressure would continue or whether it was simply playing a severely under-matched team in the Carolina Panthers. The Falcons defensive front continued their pressure resulting in a handful of sacks and causing a fumble in the endzone which led to a touchdown, which most definitely turned the game around. The defense in general seems to be playing better and better every week (see below) and it couldn’t come at a better time. That being said, the Falcons have done extremely well against two of the weakest offenses in the NFL. Even though it seems to be a worn out cliché at this point, the real test will come on Monday Night against one of the best quarterbacks in the league in Drew Brees. It is true that Brees isn’t having the same year he had last season, he still is one of the most dangerous QBs in the league and his deep strike, quick play potential can test any defense. Abraham, Babineaux, Anderson, Peters, Jerry, Biermann, and Davis will need yet another big game to keep Brees uncomfortable and nervous in the pocket.
Again, many fans will scoff at this question as well, but is the defense finally hitting it’s stride at the perfect time? It’s almost impossible to gauge the question after playing consecutive weeks against the Panthers and Seahawks. And even the run defense gave up over 200 yards rushing to the lowly Panthers. But the question should gain a little consideration because Dunta Robinson seems to finally getting his zone at cornerback, joining Brent Grimes major push to make the Pro Bowl with his superb performance and high interception total this year. William Moore has had an outstanding first year at strong safety, where he has a fantastic nose for being around the ball. Even though the Falcons secondary ranks very low in yards given up, they are one of the best in the NFL in fewest points allowed. Thomas DeCoud has had a less than stellar follow-up campaign after a fantastic first year, but he seems to be getting his groove back. Curtis Lofton is making his own push for the Pro Bowl by adding sacks and interceptions to go along with his stellar tackling skills.
Mike Peterson still has some gas left in the tank and Stephen Nicholas is making a case to be a future starter when Peterson decides to hang it up. Sean Weatherspoon seems to be getting back in the swing after an injury sidetracked what was a very promising start. John Abraham is back to his old sack master self and is getting very good help from the inside with Babineaux, rookie Corey Peters, Jamaal Anderson, Vance Walker, and Peria Jerry recovering from knee injury. The other DE position has been underwhelming, but Kroy Biermann and Chauncey Davis have shown some life the last couple of weeks. They’ve always been good against the run (except for a few games), creating turnovers, and keeping teams out of the endzone. Could they finally be “putting it altogether” so to speak at the perfect time?
The Falcons have done a masterful job of staying off the bulletin board in terms of giving other teams something to use for motivation. They have actually been able to feed off their own bulletin board material to large success (remember the Best Team in the NFC?) and that has always been a major characteristic of the New England Way that Thomas Dimitroff hails from and Coach Mike Smith subscribes to as well. Roddy White is the best receiver in the NFL…..period. His competitive juices surely have helped lead him to being the best WR this year, but his emotions have also gotten away from him a couple of times and have cost the team some serious penalty yardage. Those have always remained on the field however. Roddy White, unintentionally perhaps, ignited a nice little fire about New Orleans, the Saints, and even some fans took it as him talking about Hurricane Katrina. Much to his credit, White apologized for his comments and said he was taken out of context and that he was just kidding around a little bit. That being said though, you can bet that some of the players and coaches are using that as serious motivation about the upcoming game. From the bit on ESPN Countdown they do before each Monday Night Football game, in the words of Mike Ditka, Tom Jackson, and Keyshawn Johnson…Roddy, “C’mon Man!”
-How crazy and loud will The Dome be rocking around 8:20 pm on Monday night?
-Will the Saints come out guns a-blazin’?
-Fast or slow start for offense?
-Fast or slow start for defense?
-Can Falcons continue trend of picks against Drew Brees?
-Will Birds have an answer for Lance Moore this time?
-How much will special teams play a role this time?
-Will offense continue their emergence towards the deep ball?
-Which Falcons SHOULD make the Pro Bowl?
-Which Falcons WILL make the Pro Bowl?
-Simple and Direct: How’s it gonna be?
-How bad will this team want this game?
-Is this a time for Falcons to become “official” to national media?
-Will a healthy Saints team pose a bigger problem?
-Can Falcons DL continue their pressure?
-Will Birds LB’s keep up with Bush and Thomas?
-A huge game for the “Bruise Brothers?”
-Is the defense actually peaking or just weak opponents?
-How confident do you feel as Falcons ready for playoffs?
-Your thoughts on Roddy’s tweets: big deal or much ado about nothing?