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Saints expect Falcons' best Thursday

The SportsXchange

METAIRIE, La. -- Close games define the NFC South rivalry between the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons.

When you consider that half of their 88 previous games have been decided by seven points or less, it's easier to grasp the urgency with which the Saints prepared for the Thursday.

When the teams opened the season with a thriller in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the Saints prevailed 23-17 on an end zone interception with less than a minute remaining.

Even though the Falcons (2-8) aren't in playoff contention, the Saints (8-2) don't expect to walk out of the Georgia Dome with an easy win.

The Saints are coming off a 23-20 win against the San Francisco 49ers, while the Falcons are on a four-game losing streak after dropping a 41-28 decision to the Tampa Bay Bucs.

The Saints are in the running for home-field advantage in the conference and hope to push their NFC South lead over the Carolina Panthers to 1 1/2 games.

"I mentioned this in the team meeting," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "You could really go back through the last six, seven, (or) eight years and every one of these games seems to come down to a one possession type of game.

"Regardless of how one team is doing or how the other team is doing, it has been really consistent and I expect this to be the same. It is a tough place to play, they have been very good at home."

The season opener followed the script when Saints strong safety Roman Harper came away with an interception in the end zone after rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro tipped away Matt Ryan's fourth-down pass intended for tight end Tony Gonzalez.

"It came down to the last possession ... they seem to be played in a lot of ways very similarly in that they end up in a fourth down," Payton added. "The (game) ends up with a field goal late, and that is what makes it exciting."

As for the Falcons' struggles this season, Payton attributed some of their misfortune to injuries -- especially star wide receiver Julio Jones.

"In our league there is such a fine line that you deal with, especially when it comes to injuries," Payton said. "We could point to a number of seasons where you play in a number of games and you're able to win the close games -- maybe -- as opposed to not.

"I know how difficult it is to win in our league and I know how often these games come down to the final plays -- making a play in the end and having a chance to win. When you add the injury element to it, it obviously is that much more difficult."
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