Here are 5 things to mull over before today's 4:25 p.m. kickoff between the New Orleans Saints (7-8) and the NFC South Champion Atlanta Falcons (10-5) at the Georgia Dome.
1. NFC PLAYOFF PRIMER: Here’s a look at the NFC playoff picture:
CLINCHED: Dallas – NFC East division title and home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs
Atlanta – NFC South division title
Seattle – NFC West division title
New York Giants – playoff berth
ATLANTA FALCONS (10-5) (vs. New Orleans (7-8), Sunday, 4:25 PM ET)
Atlanta clinches a first-round bye with:
- ATL win OR
- ATL tie + SEA loss or tie OR
- SEA loss + DET loss or tie OR
- SEA tie + DET loss
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (9-5-1) (at San Francisco (2-13), Sunday, 4:25 PM ET)
Seattle clinches a first-round bye with:
- SEA win + ATL loss or tie OR
- SEA tie + ATL loss + GB/DET tie
DETROIT LIONS (9-6) (vs. Green Bay (9-6), Sunday night, 8:30 PM ET)
Detroit clinches NFC North division title with:
- DET win
Detroit clinches a first-round bye with:
- DET win + SEA loss or tie + ATL loss
Detroit clinches a playoff berth with:
- DET tie OR
- WAS loss or tie
GREEN BAY PACKERS (9-6) (at Detroit (9-6), Sunday night, 8:30 PM ET)
Green Bay clinches NFC North division title with:
- GB win or tie -- Green Bay clinches a playoff berth with:
- WAS loss OR
- WAS tie + TB win + GB clinches at least a tie in strength of victory tiebreaker over TB
(Note: GB clinches at least a tie in strength of victory tiebreaker over TB if one of the following teams win or tie: SEA, HOU, JAX, PHI. GB has already clinched strength of schedule tiebreaker over TB in this scenario.)
WASHINGTON REDSKINS (8-6-1) (vs. New York Giants (10-5), Sunday, 4:25 PM ET)
Washington clinches a playoff berth with:
- WAS win + GB-DET game does not end in a tie OR
- WAS tie + GB loss + TB loss or tie
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (8-7) (vs. Carolina (6-9), Sunday, 1:00 PM ET)
Tampa Bay clinches a playoff berth with:
- TB win + WAS tie + GB loss + TB clinches strength of victory tiebreaker over GB
(Note: TB clinches strength of victory tiebreaker over GB if all of the following teams win: TEN, IND, DAL and SF)
2. REVIEW OF GAME ONE: The Falcons defeated the Saints 45-32 on Sept. 26, 2016 on Monday Night football. Rookie linebacker Deion Jones sealed the victory with a 90-yard interception return in the fourth quarter.
Running back Devonta Freeman ran for a season-high 152 yards on 14 carries as the Falcons amassed 217 yards rushing. He also led the Falcons with five receptions for 55 yards receiving.
3. 3 KEY MATCHUPS: Here are three key matchups:
Saints RT Zach Strief vs. Falcons LB Vic Beasley: Strief, who’s in his 11th season, continues to block at a high level in pass protection. He was listed as the NFL’s top right tackle halfway through the season and his play hasn’t slipped. “He’s playing well,” Falcons defensive coordinator Richard Smith said. Beasley has turned into a force in his second season in the league with 14.5 sacks. He uses his speed and a combination of moves to break free either around the edge or up the middle off stunts.
Saints WR Michael Thomas vs. Falcons CB Jalen Collins: Thomas, after a slow start, has played well in the Saints’ vaunted passing attack. He leads the team with 82 catches. Thomas also has 891 yards and eight touchdowns. Collins has taken over for injured Pro Bowler Desmond Trufant and has played well in man-to-man coverage. He’s also been playing the ball well in the air, dispelling the notion of his lack of instincts for the position. He had his first NFL interception against the Panthers.
Saints LB Nate Stupar vs. Falcons TE Levine Toilolo: The former Falcons reserve linebacker was called “Nasty Nate” for his demeanor on the field. He sets the edge against the run and scrapes off blocks in order to make tackles. He’s played 357 defensive snaps (36.1 percent), mostly against the run. Toilolo has been key to getting the running game going and for occasionally slipping down field for a big play.
4. SERIES RECORD: This will be the 95th meeting between the Falcons and the Saints. The Falcons lead the series, 49-45.
5. TALE OF THE TAPE: 2016 Regular Season Statistics Rankings:
The AJC’s D. Orlando Ledbetter and Noah Coslov chat about Julio Jones’ situation for week 17, Matt Ryan’s MVP candidacy, and why it’s beneficial for the Falcons to host the Saints on Sunday.
GAME 15: Falcons 33, Panthers 16
GAME 14: Falcons 41, 49ers 13
GAME 13: Falcons 42, Rams 14
GAME 12: Chiefs 29, Falcons 28
GAME 11: Falcons 38, Cardinals 19
GAME 10: Eagles 24, Falcons 15
GAME SEVEN: Chargers 33, Falcons 30 in OT
GAME SIX: Seahawks 26, Falcons 24
GAME FIVE: Falcons 23, Broncos 16
GAME FOUR: Falcons 48, Panthers 33
GAME THREE: Falcons 45, Saints 32
GAME TWO: Falcons 35, Raiders 28
GAME ONE: Buccaneers 31, Falcons 24