LIVE: Falcons are in playoffs, now go for South vs. Saints

Falcons are hoping John Abraham can replicate this play against Drew Brees a few times.

Falcons are hoping John Abraham can replicate this play against Drew Brees. (Jason Getz)

NEW ORLEANS — After lunch with D-Led at Mother’s — always my first stop in New Orleans — I’m ready for the afterthought of this road trip: a football game. (Sorry, but everything takes a back seat to food here.)

The byproduct of two straight wins and a few NFC playoff contenders collapsing around them has left the Falcons in a comfortable position going into tonight’s game against the New Orleans Saints: They’ve already clinched a postseason birth for the third time in four seasons.

There's always a line at Mother's.

There's always a line at Mother's.

But is winning that NFC South that implausible?

Three things need to happen for the Falcons to win the South and clinch a home playoff game: 1) They need to win tonight. (The last four meetings between the teams have been decided by a field goal, with two going into overtime, so an upset wouldn’t be monumental); 2) The Falcons need to win next week’s regular season finale at home against Tampa Bay. (Not a problem. The Bucs have lost nine straight); 3) New Orleans needs to lose next week against Carolina. (The Saints will be favored, but the Panthers have won four of their last five and have a high-scoring offense.)

In that scenario, the teams would finish tied at 11-5 overall but the Falcons would get the edge because of a better division record (4-2 vs. 3-3). So it’s possible they can pull it

Ledbetter scripts his first 15 plays.

Darryl Ledbetter scripts his first 15 plays.

off. But winning in the Superdome won’t be easy, especially with quarterback Drew Brees playing like the league’s MVP (16 touchdowns, zero interceptions in the last five games, 24 TDs and 3 interceptions in the last eight).

At least the Falcons know they’ve already clinched at least a wild card playoff berth, the result of Green Bay’s win over Chicago Sunday night.

If the playoffs opened today, the Falcons (NFC’s sixth seed) would face the Saints (third seed) in the playoffs. If the Falcons finish ahead of Detroit for the top wild card spot (fifth seed), they will travel to the NFC East champion, which will be the winner of next week’s Dallas-New York Giants game. If they win the division, they could wind up hosting Detroit. There’s still a chance New Orleans finishes with the No. 2 seed and

Counter-clockwise: Red beans and rice, shrimp po-boy, gumbo, softshell crab po-boy.

Counter-clockwise: Red beans and rice, shrimp po-boy, chicken and andouille gumbo, softshell crab po-boy.

draws a bye, leaving the Falcons to travel to San Francisco.

For now, the Falcons are focused only on trying to play four quarters against the Saints as well as they played the last six against Carolina and Jacksonville.

Some obvious keys tonight: 1) Turnovers (it’s notable the Saints’ defense has only 13 takeaways, the fewest in the league; 2) Don’t waste red zone possessions, as was the case the last time the teams met; 3) Get some semblance of a pass rush on Brees, at least forcing him to move off his spot; 4) Pound the Saints’ defense with the run, using up clock and keeping Brees on the sideline.

The Falcons also get cornerback Brent Grimes back after a three-game absence, which should help against a quarterback who’s about to break the NFL’s single-season passing record (Brees’ 4,780 yards trails Dan Marino’s record of 5,048 by 268).

OK, that’s enough. I’ll turn it over to you now. Call me crazy (not the first time, I’m sure) but I like the Falcons’ chances tonight. They seem particularly up for this game. We’ll see. I’m here to serve, at least until I have to start banging out the game column.

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter (@JeffSchultzAJC). Friend me on Facebook (Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC).

2,750 comments Add your comment

mmgtfan

December 26th, 2011
6:20 pm

Brandy

December 26th, 2011
6:23 pm

I believe that the falcons have a wonderful shot at winning the division tonight! Tonight is the night to rise up ATL

Steve

December 26th, 2011
6:25 pm

Happy Holidays Jeff! Do you like the over or under 53?

rocky

December 26th, 2011
6:29 pm

stizz

December 26th, 2011
6:32 pm

Jeff, do you have the inactives list? I hear Meier might be out, it would be interesting to see if a WR comes up for the game.

rusty

December 26th, 2011
6:40 pm

If we see several typos and incorrect info in you column and in D. Led’s story, can we assume you guys went to Pat O’Brien’s and were attacked by the hurricanes?

mark

December 26th, 2011
6:42 pm

Gotta pay the Aints back for the OT loss!

Steve

December 26th, 2011
6:42 pm

Rusty, I see incorrect grammar/a typo in your posting.

dean

December 26th, 2011
6:44 pm

This should be fun tonight!

Jeff Schultz

December 26th, 2011
6:47 pm

Steve — Thanks. I like under. So absolutely go over.

5150 UOAD

December 26th, 2011
6:47 pm

Looks like a good meal JEFF.

Jeff Schultz

December 26th, 2011
6:47 pm

Stizz — no inactive list yet but I’ll post when we get it.

painter

December 26th, 2011
6:48 pm

Destroy these suckers. Saints’ fools, get ready to weep.

Jeff Schultz

December 26th, 2011
6:48 pm

Rusty — Hah. I’ll pass along those thoughts to D-Led.

Paul

December 26th, 2011
6:49 pm

Falcons +7.5 looks good to me, as well as the Over at 53.

Mother’s is the best. I’ve had everything they serve there, but the Shrimp Po Boy is the my favorite!

Paul

December 26th, 2011
6:50 pm

Make sure you get the Po Boy with the kosher shrimp, boychick Jeff

Sonny Clusters

December 26th, 2011
6:53 pm

We was there not long ago and had the shrimp po-boys at Pierre Masperos. Then we walked down for some beignets at Cafe du Monde. When we was ready to leave we was diulled down some because we ate so much food. We hope that doesn’t happen to you and D-Led.

Dawg48

December 26th, 2011
6:53 pm

Dang…..

Now I’m hungry and I did not get to finish reading the whole article!

Nerehere

December 26th, 2011
6:54 pm

Falcons Fans: How to watch this MNF game without pulling all your hair out. Watch and observe with no interest. Watch without watching. That’s the only way to keep your sanity. The last game was ours to win, but we couldn’t pull it out. We had dropped passes, low confidence, etc. Ah, but this time, it’s all on the line. What do Falcons do? Falcons are going to rise up like never before. After the Falcon take this one, ESPN commentators will say: “Those Atlanta Falcons sure look like the team we thought they were”. Let the games begin.

Hollywould

December 26th, 2011
6:54 pm

Man, I am pumped/ I got a feeling on Harry Douglas. Like having Grimes back. Time to make a statement!!

5150 UOAD

December 26th, 2011
6:59 pm

I see The DUKE is back to his RED & BLACK self on the Falcons blog.

5150 UOAD

December 26th, 2011
7:01 pm

HOLLYwould makes me WOODYwood Pecker.

Dawg48

December 26th, 2011
7:02 pm

Lol

That’s right pilgrim!

Dawg48

December 26th, 2011
7:04 pm

N.C. Has the momentum!
Someone is cooking up a comeback!

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

December 26th, 2011
7:05 pm

I love this time of the football season.

It’s when CHOKE rips the hearts out of his DELUSIONAL fan base and does his annual

CHOKE act :)

Saints 45

Falcants 10

5150 UOAD

December 26th, 2011
7:07 pm

48 not much of a comeback yet.

kerryb

December 26th, 2011
7:08 pm

Get ready Falcon fans. Already watching NFL Network and ESPN and the Falcons might as well not have even showed up for the game. Everything from the man crushes on Drew Brees and the Falcons offense can’t keep up with them. They obviously are forgetting that they had to be given a gift on the 30 yard line in the last game to win.

Jeff Schultz

December 26th, 2011
7:09 pm

Falcons inactives: J.P. Wilson, Kelvin Hayden, Stephen Nicholas, Brett Romberg, Kirk Chambers, Kerry Meier, Cliff Matthews.

Dawg48

December 26th, 2011
7:10 pm

5150
From what you have seen of mizzou tonight, how do you think they will handle the SEC?

stizz

December 26th, 2011
7:11 pm

ESPN has commenced the Brees love fest. If they were to do their research, they would know ATL outplayed NO in nearly every statistical category in the previous matchup this year. All that was missing was the W.

Falcon Jim

December 26th, 2011
7:11 pm

“Choke” will need the Heimlich maneuver tonight after the Birds rip the ‘taints apart.

Greg

December 26th, 2011
7:12 pm

I wish I could be optimistic. I’m a fan (short for “fanatic,” right?), but we’ve beaten exactly one team with a winning record. I don’t think they’ll humiliate us (we can be pretty good when everything’s clicking, and there’s a lot on the line), but there’s a chance they will.

falconsrus

December 26th, 2011
7:12 pm

Sky is the limit birds get down and rise up

5150 UOAD

December 26th, 2011
7:13 pm

Inactives
For the Saints

Cornerback Leigh Torrence, running back Mark Ingram, linebacker Jonathan Casillas, tackle William Robinson, tight end Michael Higgins, receiver Adrian Arrington, defensive end Turk McBride.

For the Falcons

Quarterback John Parker Wilson, cornerback Kelvin Hayden, linebacker Stephen Nicholas, center Brett Romberg, offensive lineman K Kirk Chambers, wide receiver Kerry Meier, defensive end Cliff Matthews.

Gman

December 26th, 2011
7:14 pm

Been a Falcon fan for 35 years and have talked myself into optimism many times when there was no rational evidence to support the Falcons.

Not feeling it this time around. The Falcons are pretty good but they have an absolute ceiling. Against the elite QBs they have no answer. They’ve lost 9 of the last 11 to the Saints (would be 10 of 11 if NO hadn’t missed the chip shot in OT last year).

Day One Fan

December 26th, 2011
7:14 pm

All is well. Choke’s 45-10 aints victory prediction makes the game a sure-fire Falcons win.

5150 UOAD

December 26th, 2011
7:15 pm

48 I still don’t think they have the Defense to play well enough to be the #4 in the EAST as some have already predicted.

"Chef" Tim Dix

December 26th, 2011
7:15 pm

NO CLIFF MATHEWS THEY’LL DOOOM!

JSS

December 26th, 2011
7:19 pm

@ Sonny Clusters…
You know where to eat! Still the single best burger that I ever had in the United States was at Masperos in 1983 before the Crescent City Classic… I still blame it for missing my then PR on 32:21…

Dawg48

December 26th, 2011
7:19 pm

Great play! It ain’t over!

5150 UOAD

December 26th, 2011
7:19 pm

48 the HEELS with a TD but I still don’t see it. They had too many TO’s in the 1st half. Mizzou will have to have some TO’s this half to allow UNC to make it a game.

Steve

December 26th, 2011
7:21 pm

Hey “Matt Choke Ryan,” how did those Eagles and Vick end up doing this year? No playoffs for the “dream team?” Awwww.

stizz

December 26th, 2011
7:21 pm

Chirs Berman just said the Broncos and Raiders will both make the playoffs. Man this guy really has no clue.

katherine

December 26th, 2011
7:21 pm

Bluddy

December 26th, 2011
7:21 pm

birds need to be like last years packers, get on roll baby

Greg Mendel

December 26th, 2011
7:22 pm

This is a Falcons/Saints game. Forget the stats, forget the record. Brees is gonna bring it. Brees has a helluva team. Falcons need to play good football.

Dawg48

December 26th, 2011
7:22 pm

I just want to see a good game. Not like the Marshall FIU snoozer!

By the way do I get credit for calling the fight even though the clock was at 00:00?

5150 UOAD

December 26th, 2011
7:23 pm

Welcome KAT are you ready to fight for a win? Don’t let the mean punks try to chase you to the Kitchen. LOL. We will give those guys telling you to make sandwiches HELL if they start that crap.

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

December 26th, 2011
7:23 pm

4 Weeks in a row vs Rookie qbs……………….

Time to play with the big boys :)

Dawg48

December 26th, 2011
7:24 pm

5150

Always hitting on the ladies…..