Opponent: New Orleans Saints
Where: Georgia Dome
Time: 8:20 p.m.
Records: Falcons (10-1, 2-1 in NFC South); Saints (5-6, 2-1).
Point Spread (Danny Sheridan's odds as published in USA Today): Atlanta is favored by 3 12 with an over of 54.
Key Offensive Match-up: In the Falcons' 31-27 loss to New Orleans on Nov. 11, the game came down to the Falcons' having three plays to make one yard to score a touchdown something they could not do late in the fourth quarter. Again, against the NFL's No. 32-ranked run defense, the Falcons will have to make those yards in the critical situations. The last few weeks, the Falcons have played running back Jacquizz Rodgers more snaps than they did earlier in the season and have given him the ball more often as Michael Turner continues to struggle. Turner has 592 yards on the season on track to be his lowest total since joining the Falcons in a year in which he was not limited by injury. In addition, Turner has only averaged better than 3.3 yards per carry in four games. Conversely, the quicker, speedier Rodgers seems to be hitting his stride. He rushed for 49 yards on 10 carries last week and could make the difference in the team's running game.
Key Defensive Match-up: Injuries will be critical in this phase. Falcons' cornerback Asante Samuel is active but has been limited in the last two games by a right shoulder injury and did not practice during the shortened week. Look for Saints quarterback Drew Brees to test him or whoever substitutes for him if he cannot play all the snaps. In addition, the Falcons' other starting cornerback, Dunta Robinson, was bothered by an illness midweek, which caused him to miss all of Tuesday's practice and some of Wednesday's. The Falcons need their best from both players. In addition to needing a solid performance from those two, the Falcons will have to defend the run better a phase that hurt them badly in the first game. This time, they will have outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon back. (An ankle injury sidelined Weatherspoon for the first game.) With Weatherspoon back in the fold, the Falcons' run defense was vastly improved last week. They will need it to be again on Thursday.
Inactive: For Atlanta: quarterback Dominique Davis, wide receiver Tim Toone, safety Charles Mitchell, guard Phillipkeith Manley, guard Harland Gunn, defensive end Lawrence Sidbury, defensive tackle Peria Jerry; for New Orleans, wide receiver Courtney Roby, linebacker Scott Shanle, defensive end Junior Galette, S Isa Abdul-Quddus, T Charles Brown, TE David Thomas, DT Tom Johnson.