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Saints-Falcons Preview

AP - Sports

The Atlanta Falcons don't need much motivation for their rematch with the New Orleans Saints.

However, they've done a good job of giving the desperate Saints more reason to get amped up for this contest.

The Falcons look to avenge their lone defeat by trying to avoid a fifth consecutive loss to the Saints on Thursday night at the Georgia Dome.

Atlanta (10-1) was rolling along at 8-0 when New Orleans ended that run with a 31-27 home victory Nov. 11. The Falcons were held to 46 rushing yards, settled for two field goals inside the red zone and turned the ball over on downs late in the game from inside the Saints' 5-yard line.

Though Atlanta bounced back from that defeat with two close victories to maintain the NFC's best record, some Falcons believe they were the better team at the Superdome.

"It's not like they came out here and won a game," said Atlanta receiver Roddy White, who caught seven passes for 114 yards in that contest. "I think we kind of gave it to them."

Comments like that have lit a spark under the Saints, who have won four in a row and 11 of 13 between the NFC South rivals. New Orleans has won the last three at Atlanta, each by three points.

"It definitely kind of sets up a nice little fire or however you want to say it," New Orleans safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "That's how it is - Atlanta versus the Saints. There's always going to be somebody talking trash. Most times it's Roddy White. And we enjoy it. I think that makes the game fun. It brings emotion to the game. He's Roddy White. You've got to know that's going to come from him."

White might have reason to spout off considering the Falcons can clinch the division title with a victory and a Tampa Bay loss or tie at Denver on Sunday.

"Ten and 1 is great, but I'll tell you what I've said since the beginning of the season: We're just jockeying for position," said Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez, who is tied for sixth in the NFL with 69 receptions. "We just want to put ourselves in the best position, playing the best football."

New Orleans (5-6), meanwhile, remains on the outside looking in at the NFC playoff picture after its three-game winning streak ended with a 31-21 home loss to San Francisco on Sunday.

"The margin for error is very slight right now. We've kind of used up our nine lives," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "So we've got to really bear down here and just understand what's at stake every time we step on the field."

Brees threw three touchdowns but his two interceptions against the 49ers were each returned for TDs. He's completed 67.4 percent of his passes and thrown 13 touchdowns versus five picks while going 5-1 at Atlanta as a member of the Saints.

He threw for 298 yards and three scores against the Falcons earlier this month, but it might be the Saints defense that could help determine the outcome. New Orleans still ranks last in the league allowing 454.8 total yards, but the defense yielded a season-low 375 and two TDs versus San Francisco.

"We need to carry that into Atlanta because this is another good offense that we're facing and we don't have a lot of time to prepare," New Orleans defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo continued. "We are getting better as a unit. It is coming together."

Despite winning their last two games by a combined five points, the Falcons still rank eighth in scoring (26.7 points per game) and sixth in total offense (385.9 yards per game).

"We feel really good where we are at," said White, who has 18 receptions for 241 yards in his last two games at New Orleans but 20 for 368 in seven career home contests against the Saints.

After throwing five picks in Atlanta's 23-19 win over Arizona on Nov. 18, Matt Ryan threw for 353 yards with an 80-yard TD to Julio Jones and was intercepted once in Sunday's 24-23 victory at Tampa Bay. Ryan has thrown five TDs and been intercepted once but is 1-2 at home against the Saints.

Held to 15 yards on 13 carries at New Orleans, Michael Turner has totaled 78 on 41 rushes in his last three games overall and could see more of his workload taken by Jacquizz Rodgers. The second-year speedster rushed 10 times for 49 yards with a TD and caught two passes for 30 against the Buccaneers.

The anticipation for this game may be ramped up even more after the Saints reported their team bus being pelted by eggs after they arrived at the Atlanta airport.

Tight end Jimmy Graham wrote on Twitter: "Bus just got egged after landing in ATL by the ramp workers. Classy!"

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