NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons have 17 losses between them and neither will finish the regular season with a winning record.
And they couldn't care less.
The Saints (6-8) and Falcons (5-9) have been divisional rivals for nearly half a century and can't stand each other. There's also an NFC South title on the line.
So one could argue there is no more compelling, high-stakes game on the NFL schedule than the one kicking off in the Superdome this Sunday.
"It's going to be loud and crazy in there. I can't wait," Falcons receiver Roddy White said. "It's an important game for both teams with the season we've been having. We're both right there. The winner of this game is probably going to win the division, so the excitement will be there. Everybody will be pumped."
The Saints will be the last team to apologize if they win a division with a losing record. In 2010, when they were defending Super Bowl champions, they won 11 games but had to open the playoffs at 7-9 Seattle, which won the NFC West that season. The Saints lost.
"This at the beginning of the season is what you hoped for, the opportunity to be playing for something significant this time of the year," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "That's what we have the chance to do. ... I know the fans enjoy this rivalry. It doesn't get any better than this."
While New Orleans already has been eliminated from wild-card contention, the Saints can win the division as soon as this weekend if they beat the Falcons and if Carolina (5-8-1) loses to Cleveland. However, the Saints could also be eliminated if they lose to the Falcons and the Panthers beat the Browns, because the Panthers and Falcons play each other in Week 17.
Atlanta could remain in control of its playoff destiny with a victory, but would be eliminated with a loss.
Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis has predicted that New Orleans would give the Falcons "their funeral," to which White responded facetiously, "May we rest in peace."
White added, "There's no kind of motivation that's going to make us step up and be like 'Oh, they said this'. No, we know what it is, it's Saints-Falcons."
Indeed, when Atlanta was featured on the HBO series "Hard Knocks" back in August, the series showed some members of the Falcons mentioning their rivalry with, and disdain for, New Orleans.
Lewis, a New Orleans native, was among those watching.
"They didn't pinpoint no other team," Lewis said. "They pinpointed us. So it's war."
Some things to know about the 91st meeting between the Falcons and Saints:
AERIAL ASSAULT: The game features the top two passing offenses in the NFC. Brees and the Saints lead the conference with 301.8 yards passing per game, while the Falcons, with Matt Ryan under center, have passed for 286.1 yards per game.
DISMAL DEFENSE: The Falcons rank last in total defense in the entire NFL, giving up 409.9 yards per game, while the Saints rank second-to-last, giving up 390.1 yards. When the teams met in Atlanta in their regular season opener on Sept. 7, Ryan set an Atlanta record for yards passing in a game with 448, and the Falcons won in overtime, 37-34.
"Ryan threw for a career high. It hurt," Lewis said. "It's definitely something we've got to remember."
HANGING TIGHT: Brees has had a lot of success throwing to tight ends this season. Jimmy Graham, Josh Hill and Ben Watson have combined to catch 104 passes for 1,074 yards and 16 touchdowns. Graham has accounted for most of that, with 73 catches for 782 yards and nine TDs.
JULIO SHOW: Falcons coach Mike Smith claims that he intends to wait until his game-day inactive list is due before deciding whether top receiver Julio Jones will play in New Orleans. Jones hurt his hip at the end of a loss two weeks ago at Green Bay, where he had a franchise single-game record 259 yards receiving, giving him 1,428 yards for the season. He skipped last weekend's loss to Pittsburgh.
SECONDARY CHANGES: New Orleans and Atlanta have both made personnel changes in their defensive backfields recently. The Saints shook things up by inserting three new defensive backs in the starting lineup in a victory at Chicago last Monday: recently acquired safeties Jamarca Sanford and Pierre Warren, as well as young cornerback Terrence Frederick, who was promoted last month from the practice squad. For the Falcons, Robert McClain has started the past four games at cornerback for injured Robert Alford. McClain has one interception this season, and it came in Week 1 against New Orleans.
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