Falcons look to rebound against

The Atlanta Falcons came up three points short of winning against the New York Jets last weekend will have a week to shore up deficiencies on both sides of the ball as they work through the teams bye week before hosting the New Orleans Saints.  Whether that will be enough time for Julio Jones to make a return is yet to be seen.  Jones was injured in Monday Night’s game against the Jets but not sure when. He limped off the field after the game..

“The first reports were not encouraging, but we will wait to see what the second (opinion) comes as,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said during Tuesday’s news conference

Great tickets are still available for the game against the Saints.


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Falcons (9-5) at Saints (11-3), 8:20 p.m. Eastern, ESPN

Line: Saints by 6

Recent ”Monday Night Football” intros have featured football legends reciting vaguely inspirational speeches pertaining to the home team’s current fortunes: Barry Sanders spoke of Detroit pride, Joe Montana hailed the return to relevance of the 49ers and Jerry Jones praised himself for positioning himself ahead of dozens of worthy Cowboys luminaries in a quest for 60 more seconds of television exposure. This game will be introduced by Betty White, who briefly quarterbacked the Falcons in the 1970s under the pseudonym Kim McQuilken. Production stills show White in a cozy Christmas setting, perfect for Dec. 26. If the Falcons and the Saints meet again in the playoffs, the halftime show will be a reunion of ”Designing Women.”

The battle for the No. 2 seed in the N.F.C. playoffs is one of the few compelling story lines left in the regular season’s final days. The 49ers have refused to fade away like good little upstarts, instead grinding out tough wins against the Steelers and the Seahawks. The Saints have no choice but to stay in full-throttle mode: for them, a No. 3 seeding could be disastrous.

Contrary to popular belief, the Saints are not a bad road team; they are 18-6 on the road in the last three years. They are, however, a team with fresh memories of first-round trauma: the Seahawks showed last year that sound tackling on defense and a few broken tackles on offense can trump all the gadgetry that New Orleans can throw at an opponent, even in the Superdome.

The Lions are the Saints’ most likely opponent with the third seed. The difference between finishing above or below the 49ers is the difference between a meeting with a pumped-up Ndamukong Suh and Cliff Avril and a week off.

Keeping pace with San Francisco means beating Atlanta, and the last four meetings between the Saints and the Falcons have been decided by field goals.

The Falcons still have a slim chance of taking the N.F.C. South from the Saints if they win. If that happens, the Saints wind up in the wild-card pool. With the Saints and the Lions swimming around, that pool would be more like a shark tank.


(Pick does not reflect the betting line)

This is a more complete version of the story than the one that appeared in print.

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THE FIFTH DOWN; Jaguars (4-9) at Falcons (8-5)

Jaguars (4-9) at Falcons (8-5)

8:30 p.m. Eastern, NFL Network

Line: Falcons by 11

Great news, NFL Network: the Jaguars may no longer be television ratings poison. The Jaguars were responsible for the two lowest ”Monday Night Football” ratings of the season, but the Seahawks and the Rams managed to tunnel beneath them with this week’s cavalcade of blocked punts, hacky-sacked snaps and screen passes that hit the receiver’s knee on one bounce. The Jaguars also scored 41 points in their win over the Buccaneers, more than in their previous three games combined and more than twice their previous season high.

The Jaguars now have the potential to hold your attention. All it took was a change in coaching and ownership, a series of fumbled punts by the opponent and the kind of general lassitude that came when two teams (Seattle and St. Louis) with seven total wins faced off in mid-December.

Falcons Coach Mike Smith, a former Jaguars coordinator, was briefly hospitalized after Sunday’s victory over the Panthers with an undisclosed illness. Smith was back in Atlanta on Monday and will be on the sideline Thursday. Smith is from Daytona, Fla., and while he enjoys trips back to Jacksonville, playing at home cuts down on his ticket costs. ”It’s a little cheaper up here since I don’t have as many friends as I did in Jacksonville,” he said.

Smith’s Florida supporters can watch the game on television. The network needs the ratings.

Pick: Falcons

(Pick does not reflect the betting line)

This is a more complete version of the story than the one that appeared in print.


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