To those out there who celebrate it, I would like to wish you all a merry Christmas. To those out there who don't, I hope this regular day is at least a special one.
As my gift to all of you, regardless of what holiday you may celebrate, I present our traditional chat with everyone's favorite non-Saints blogger, Dave the Falconer, from Atlanta Falcons blog The Falcaholic. It's become tradition before every Saints vs. Falcons matchup for the two of us to catch up on our respective teams and allow all of you to read the resulting transcript. And since Dave and I have become such good friends, our chats usually border on the insane. So make the jump to get better acquainted with the Falcons and, hopefully, get a good laugh at the same time.
A happy and a safe holiday season to all of you!
Choate: Hoo, this is awkward.
Cariello: Enjoying the season?
Choate: I am.
Cariello: Mother $&*#^#.
Choate: I gotta say, it's exceeded my wildest expectations.
Cariello: What were your wildest expectations? And keep it clean, this is a family blog.
Choate: There goes my Falcons-themed porno. 11-5 at the outside, maybe stealing a division title. I honestly thought you guys would be winning the division again. But at this point, it's gotta be looking pretty daunting in New Orleans.
Cariello: Personally, I think anyone in New Orleans clinging to the hope of a division title is seriously wasting their time and energy. I've accepted the 5th seed and I'm okay with it. It's practically a first round bye considering the 5th seed will end up playing the NFC West champ.
Cariello: I guess the Rams just because it's closer and it's indoors.
Choate: Do you hope you get another crack at the Falcons in the playoffs?
Cariello: Hell and Yes.
Choate: The hubris!
Cariello: I want the Saints to beat the best. You guys are the best.
Choate: You know, it's refreshing to hear that. I know you guys dealt with similar things in 2009, but it's been tough to get people to acknowledge that we're the best in the NFC.
Cariello: Hey, it's tough getting anyone in the mainstream to acknowledge anything other than Brett Favre and Michael Vick. Even Tom Brady is feeling slighted this season.
Choate: Maybe because that hair makes him like a middle-aged Justin Bieber. Just a thought.
Cariello: Dave, can I be honest with you for just a moment...
Cariello: I have Beiber Fever.
Choate: Oh God. Kill it with fire.
Cariello: I can't! It's spread too much! It's all over!!
Choate: I'll load the shotgun. It was nice knowing you, Dave.
Cariello: Tell Josh Bullocks, "I'm sorry."
Choate: I don't even want to know. But out of respect for you...
Choate: I will definitely forget to tell him that.
Cariello: Better that way. ANYWAY...
Choate: This train jumped tracks and exploded. Just like Bieber's career when he hits puberty. But I digress.
Cariello: What would happen if the Falcons and the Michael Vick-led Eagles met in the playoffs?
Choate: That would be a hell of the game. They're the team most Falcons fans fear most. They'd rather play the Saints. They're just so capable of scoring points in bunches. And that defense gives our offensive line fits. I wouldn't want to have to face them.
Cariello: So where do the Falcons stand on the injury front?
Choate: They're in relatively good shape. The most concerning injuries are ones that won't keep guys out of the game. But will slow them down.
Cariello: Oooooh. I like the sound of that.
Choate: Yeah, Roddy White's been dealing with a nagging knee injury for eons now. And Curtis Lofton hurt himself messily devouring a running back. So those guys aren't 100%. How about the Saints? I hear you've got some spare parts at running back and your coach can't figure out how to make them work.
Cariello: Chris Ivory didn't play last week courtesy of a hammy injury. Hopefully he'll be ready to go. Pierre and Reggie are back. Starting cornerback Jabari Greer injured his knee last week. I'm worried he won't be back in time. Other than that, they're in pretty good shape.
Choate: If Greer isn't here, who will bring the fear?
Cariello: I wish they would slide Malcolm Jenkins over and keep Sharper in at free safety full time. Instead it will probably be someone like Leigh Torrence who gets more time. Rookie cornerback Patrick Robinson may not be healthy enough to play on Monday night.
Choate: So we could be dealing with a depleted secondary? Music to my ears.
Cariello: Yeah, that's possible. I'm sure you're loving that.
Choate: Something I've wondered, speaking of secondaries...is Drew Brees taking more risks this season? He seems to be getting picked left and right. But that might just be the highlight DVD I've made of him getting picked left and right.
Cariello: That's not your highlight DVD. That's the truth. One unpleasant streak Drew has going currently is an interception streak. He has now thrown at least one interception in ten straight games. We don't like to talk about that though.
Cariello: How's Matt Ryan holding up? Wish you had Michael Vick back?
Choate: Ha! You're so hilarious, Dave Cariello! HILLLLARRRRIOUUUUUSSS!
Choate: But seriously.
Cariello: I try.
Choate: We're pretty happy with Ryan. He's having easily his best year in the pros, and he's minimizing his mistakes. That's critical for the Falcons.
Cariello: Hall of Fame?
Choate: If 2010 were the only year ever, then yes. As it is, I think we'll give it several seasons. Drew Brees may be punching his HOF ticket, though.
Cariello: Obviously you don't have the necessary data to seriously say. I'm just asking for your opinion. Do you really believe that Matt Ryan has what it takes?
Choate: I don't think he'll be a Hall of Famer. I think he'll be consistent enough to flirt with it by the end of his career. But he's never going to put up ostentatious numbers. Not in the Falcons system, and that's okay. The Falcons need him to play well, manage games, occasionally uncork a long throw and limit mistakes. He's Hall of Fame in my heart.
Cariello: Speaking of Hall of Famers, Is Tony Gonzalez going to play forever?
Choate: He may have two more seasons left in him. With the Falcons? I'm not so sure. If the Falcons make a deep playoff run, he'll probably be back.
Choate: How do you see the Saints planning for life after Brees?
Cariello: Why? Did you hear something? Is Brees going somewhere? What do you know!?!?
Cariello: Seriously though, I don't see any planning going on right now. I think that's about six years away. Ideally, I'd like to see Sean Payton find a young quarterback in the next couple of years and begin to mold him.
Choate: Interesting. Six more years? Wow.
Cariello: Yeah. That puts Drew at 37 years old. Maybe 38. I think he'll still be able to compete at that age.
Choate: I think so. Assuming he can stay healthy. I certainly don't mean to knock old guys.
Cariello: I'm looking at some Falcons stats. What I'm noticing is that the Falcons have an efficient offense yet they rank very low in yards per play. Combined with the third best T.O.P. in the league and that would indicate to me that Atlanta's offense is able to slowly and steadily march downfield, often using up full sets of downs on every series. Is that true?
Choate: Very true. The Falcons are great at wearing out opponents. It's really become their offensive identity at this point. A healthy dose of Turner to wear out the front seven and short passes that rely on the physicality of their receivers to get extra yardage. It seems to be working.
Cariello: How does an opponent stop that? Who has been successful at doing so?
Choate: Really, only the Steelers and the Eagles. The Eagles sent constant, overwhelming pressure which disrupted the offensive flow. No rhythm, no methodical marching. The Steelers stopped them, but that was so early in the season I feel like the Falcons didn't have their identity yet.
Choate: How will the Saints match up with that?
Cariello: Gregg Williams likes to bring a lot of different blitzes. But I'm worried about the personnel. The Saints front four hasn't done much in the way of getting pressure.
Choate: You'll need pressure to stop the Falcons. It's just a fact of life. They rarely beat themselves.
Cariello: That's what I'm worried about.
Choate: What about the Saints offensive identity? What should the Falcons scheme for?
Cariello: A lot of passing, apparently. The Saints play calling was incredibly one-dimensional last week against Baltimore.
Choate: Why no trust for the running game?
Cariello: I'm beginning to think Chris Ivory has a lot to do with it. If he's healthy, then Payton will use him. But it's almost as if he has little to no trust in Pierre or Reggie at this point. Almost like it's Ivory or nothing. Perhaps neither is still truly healthy. But you just never know with Payton. He might come out and run the ball twenty times in the first half.
Choate: Does he just like having a new toy every year, or does he have an Ivory boner?
Cariello: It does seem like he treats running backs like toys. Last year it was Mike Bell. This year it's Ivory. He used to like Pierre, now I don't think he does.
Choate: I think Pierre's injury problems are catching up with him.
Choate: Tell me a little bit more about Ivory. What does he bring to the table?
Cariello: He's a power runner. Just think the opposite of Reggie Bush. But what's great about Ivory is that he's got speed so when he gets into space, he's gone. I really like him but he can't seem to go an entire sixty minutes of football without limping off the field at least once.
Choate: Undrafted free agents, right? You get what you pay for.
Cariello: Bah. How do the Saints stop your running back, Michael Turner?
Choate: Get into the backfield. So he can't build momentum. Turner is like a tank with butter on its treads.
Choate: Do you have guys capable of doing that?
Cariello: No :-(
Choate: Bwahahaha! I'm liking the sound of this.
Cariello: Which player has surprised you this season?
Choate: William Moore. He's got five interceptions this season and he's shown flashes of being a dominant safety. His biggest problem is his temper and lack of discipline, but he will be truly nasty if he gets that under control.
Choate: How about you, Saints fan?
Cariello: Tight end Jimmy Graham. He's the teams tight end of the future and the things we've seen from him this season make me scream like a schoolgirl.
Choate: Might want to find a good chastity belt.
Cariello: Are they still playing that Samuel L. Jackson Falcons commercial? Do you think that's what has brought the team so much success this season?
Choate: Absolutely. Forget coaching, the players. All that stuff. It's Samuel L. Jackson yelling at some mother*&@#$&s about rising up. Coincidentally, he's been inked to do the same thing for a Cialis ad.
Cariello: Bwahaha! Way to squeeze in a Cialis reference. This reminds me...
Cariello: I cannot $&%^ stand that NFL Play 60 commercial with the Falcons on the bus!! That song and those images of your stupid, ugly team make me want to bang my head against a brick wall.
Choate: I love it. To be fair, every time I hear someone talking about how nobody talks about the Saints but they're talking about nobody talking about the Saints, I have a seizure.
Cariello: I actually don't like that either. I don't care who says what. I've got my Super Bowl memories. I don't need any recognition for my team.
Choate: See, that's exactly how I feel. But we haven't won yet, so I've still got a salt and vinegar chip on my shoulder.
Cariello: Yeah, it feels a lot different when it actually happens.
Choate: I bet.
Cariello: Alright, give me a prediction.
Choate: I predict 31-28 Falcons.
Choate: Gimme one back.
Cariello: I'm going with 35-33. Saints, of course.
Choate: Either way.
Choate: It's going to be a hell of a game.