Saints face important division games
METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints can clinch a playoff berth by beating the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
A victory would also put them in position to clinch the NFC South title if they would also beat Tampa Bay the following week and Carolina would lose either of its last two games.
New Orleans (10-4) is one game ahead of the Falcons, who beat them, 20-17, in Atlanta on Dec. 7.
"It's crazy to think that 10 wins doesn't get you in," Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan said Wednesday.
In fact, if the Saints lose to the Falcons again and the Panthers beat the Buccaneers, New Orleans will be eliminated from the NFC South title chase with a week remaining.
"We know what this game means," defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins said. "It's a division game against a team that's playing really well right now, a team that was in the Super Bowl last year, so we know what they're capable of."
In the first meeting, the Saints were penalized 11 times -- their second-highest total of the season. They followed that with eight penalties -- tied for third-most -- last week in a win over the Jets.
The loss in the first meeting came even though New Orleans was plus-2 in turnovers. The one turnover they committed was one of the biggest plays of the game. Drew Brees was intercepted in the end zone by linebacker Deion Jones with less than two minutes to play and New Orleans poised to try a short field goal to tie or score a touchdown to take the lead.
"We weren't happy with how we finished that game," running back Mark Ingram II said. "We're all frustrated with that game."
New Orleans would have clinched a playoff berth by now if it had won the first meeting, a fact made more bothersome because the loss came against the Saints' most bitter rival.
"They don't like us," tackle Terron Armstead said. "We don't like them. It's mutual."
But regardless of the opponent, the main thing for New Orleans is that a victory will guarantee it a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
"That's a game we feel like we should have won," Rankins said of the first meeting. "We get another chance on Christmas Eve at our place. It's big because of what it's for in the grand scheme of things."
Atlanta held New Orleans to a season-low 17 points in the first meeting.
SERIES HISTORY: 97th regular-season meeting. Falcons lead series, 51-45. Atlanta has won the last three meetings. In the last meeting in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Atlanta won, 45-32, last season. The Falcons beat the Saints, 27-20, in an NFC wild-card playoff game in 1991, and the Saints beat the Falcons, 23-3, in 2006 when the Superdome reopened a year after Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans is 16-9 since Sean Payton took over as head coach.
--The Saints are the only team in the NFL that has three players who have gained 1,000 yards from scrimmage this season -- running backs Mark Ingram II, Alvin Kamara and wide receiver Michael Thomas.
The players accumulated their yardage in different ways. All of Thomas' 1,085 yards have come on pass receptions. Ingram has gained 74 percent of his 1,420 total yards on the ground and 51 percent of Kamara's 1,336 yards have come on pass receptions.
--Six Saints were selected for the Pro Bowl -- Ingram, Kamara, Thomas, defensive end Cameron Jordan, quarterback Drew Brees and cornerback Marshon Lattimore. Ingram and Kamara are the first running back teammates to be selected to the same Pro Bowl since the St. Louis Cardinals' Jim Otis and Terry Metcalf in 1975. The Tampa Bay tandem of Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott were selected in 1997 and 2000 with Dunn as a running back and Alstott as a fullback. Kamara and Lattimore are the first rookies to be selected to the Pro Bowl since Payton became Saints head coach in 2006. It's the first time two Saints rookies have been selected to the Pro Bowl in the same season.
--The Saints placed linebacker A.J. Klein on injured reserve because of a groin injury suffered against Atlanta on Dec. 7. They filled Klein's roster spot by re-signing tight end John Phillips, who was with New Orleans for eight games last season and for this past offseason.
NOTES: QB Drew Brees needs 39 yards to become the third player in NFL history to pass for 70,000 yards. Peyton Manning passed for 71,871 yards and Brett Favre passed for 71,838 yards. ... DE Trey Hendrickson (ankle), who missed last week's game, did not participate in practice Wednesday. ... TE Michael Hoomanawanui (concussion), who was injured in last week's game, did not practice. ... G Larry Warford (concussion), who was injured in last week's game, did not practice. ... TE Garrett Griffin (foot), who was injured in last week's game, did not practice. ... CB Justin Hardee (foot), who was injured in last week's game, did not practice. ... WR Ted Ginn Jr. (rib), who missed last week's game, was limited in practice. ... G Andrus Peat (groin), who played one offensive snap and two special-teams snaps last week, was limited. ... G Senio Kelemete (knee), who was injured in last week's game, was limited. ... TE Josh Hill (shoulder), who was limited in last week's game, was limited in practice.