MACON, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) – The Falcons will face the Saints this Sunday. It’ll be on Christmas Eve, but it might not be a game you want the rest of your family watching with you if you’re a Falcons fan.
This is the most underrated rivalry game in the NFL. This is an ugly, dirty, violent rivalry. When I was a kid both the Falcons and Saints were horrible, but they had some wars on the football field. The Falcons actually won a couple of games in the late-1970s on last-second long touchdown passes by Steve Bartkowski, the best quarterback in Falcons history.
Yes, Bartkowski is the best quarterback in Falcons history. Hey, this is my segment so that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Bartkowski would duel with Archie Manning, who later had a couple of boys that grew up to play quarterback as well.
These teams hated each other then and they hate each other now. Just a couple of weeks ago, Saints coach Sean Payton made the choke sign toward Falcons running back Devonta Freeman and you could actually read his lips as he said choke. Of course, Peyton lied about it after the game and said he didn’t remember it. Typical Saints stuff. Atlanta won that game and they need to win on Sunday in New Orleans to have a chance at winning the division.
If the Falcons beat the Saints and then beat the Panthers in Atlanta next week, they’ll win the NFC South. They would finish this weird season at 11-5 and be one of the hottest teams going into the playoffs. Now, I’m not going to try and sugarcoat what the Falcons have looked like most of the season. They’ve been inconsistent on offense and truthfully have been lucky – just like they were lucky on Monday night in Tampa Bay. They can’t be lucky this week. The Saints will want revenge from what happened in Atlanta a few weeks ago, and the Falcons will have to play their best game of the season.
Freeman even admitted Monday that this Falcons team has not played its best game yet. Well, it’s time to do that on Sunday. The Falcons have to run the ball effectively, and Freeman showed on Monday he can do that. They can’t force the ball to Julio Jones. Quarterback Matt Ryan gets in trouble when he tries to look for Jones, instead of just having Jones be one of his options. Ryan must play better. He must be efficient and his offensive line must play well. The defense must not let Drew Brees beat them. They’ve also got to be careful about New Orleans’ improved running game.
This game is not a must win for the Falcons. They could lose and still get into the playoffs with a win over Carolina next Sunday in Atlanta. But they need to beat this rival in their own backyard to prove to themselves that they can win big games.
This is a talented team still trying to get over last February’s collapse in Houston in the Super Bowl. If they beat the Saints in New Orleans, maybe they’ll be on their way – and – at the same time – get the satisfaction of knowing they beat their biggest rival twice this season.