Yankees vs. Red Sox, Duke vs. Carolina, 'Bama vs. Auburn, Ohio State vs. Michigan, Ali vs. Frazier, Luke vs. Darth, America vs. U.S.S.R. Those rivalries may only be a minor disagreement compared to the outright hate that has existed between the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons. Saints/Falcons is a feud that transcends sports. A Hatfield-McCoy type of rivalry that divides households, ends friendships, and creates sworn enemies among the two fanbases. New Orleans and Atlanta will meet for the 99th time this afternoon, including one playoff showdown. The Falcons own a 52-46 edge in the series, including a 27-22 advantage in games played in Atlanta, site of today's contest. Normally closely played games with unpredictable results, the Falcons have averaged 22.1 points per game, while the Saints 21.8 in games against each other. New Orleans first year as an NFL franchise was of course 1967, which was only the second year of professional football existence for the Falcons. The first meeting between these two took place on November 26, 1967 in New Orleans, a 27-24 Saints victory. It was the second of just three wins on the year for the new team. The first game in Atlanta between them was December 7, 1969, a 45-17 Saints loss. The Falcons would go on to win the first five contests played in Atlanta between the two, and 12 of the first 14. The first Saints victory on their enemy's home field would not be until October 20, 1974. The New Orleans offense netted 232 yards rushing that day, and a superb defensive effort caused six turnovers and sacked Falcon quarterbacks seven times on their way to a 13-3 victory. Atlanta and New Orleans would become division rivals with the formation of the NFC West division at the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. They would continue to be linked after the league realigned in 2002, forming the NFC South. Neither franchise would have much success early on. The Falcons did not have their first playoff berth until 1978, and have appeared in the postseason 14 times in their history. New Orleans would have to wait until 1987 for their first appearance in the postseason, and have qualified for the playoffs 11 times during their existence. Both teams have six division championships to their credit, including four NFC South titles a piece, when this rivalry took on greater national prominence.
The Saints-Falcons rivalry greatly intensified in 1978. New Orleans entered week eleven with a 5-5 record and in good position for a playoff push when they hosted the Falcons. With just seconds to play, Atlanta pulled off a miraculous 20-17 victory on a hail mary pass that be called Big Ben Right. Just 14 days later, during the rematch in Atlanta, Falcons quarterback Steve Bartkowski again ripped the heart out of all of New Orleans with another comeback in the waning moments to give his team a win by an identical 20-17 score. The Saints would dominate their rivals between the mid-1980's through mid-1990's, even winning 8 of the 9 games in the Falcons home stadium between 1986-94. Bartkowski was just one of many reviled players or coaches on both sides throughout the series. Names like Alfred Jackson, Jerry Glanville, William Andrews, Tony Gonzalez, Deion Sanders, Brian Jordan, and Roddy White cause Saints fans to taste bile, while Dalton Hilliard, Quinn Early, Jimmy Graham, Steve Gleason, Deuce McAllister, and the entire Dome Patrol could make a Falcons fan curl into a fetal position. Saints Hall of Famers Bobby Hebert, Morten Anderson, and Joe Horn had the audacity to wear the enemy's uniform at one time, while Michael Haynes would return home to New Orleans after spending the first part of his career with the Falcons. Another era of Saints/Falcons hate has brought much of the same. New names such as Sean Payton, Cam Jordan, Michael Thomas, Marshon Lattimore, Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman, Julio Jones, and Deion Jones have drawn the ire of fans on both sides.
New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees has been the central figure in these wars since his arrival to the Saints in 2006. Brees is 16-8 against the Falcons since becoming a Saint, including a 7-5 record on the road. While Brees would often make the Falcons secondary his own personal playground, they had some moments when they did get the best of their nemesis. One such moment came during last year's showdown in Atlanta on December 7, 2017. Despite 271 yards passing and two scores, Atlanta's Deion Jones intercepted a Brees end zone pass in the last seconds to preserve a 20-17 win. Another cringe worthy moment for Saints fans came on November 29, 2012. On a Thursday night showdown in Atlanta, the Falcons not only carved out a 23-13 victory, but intercepted Brees five times and held him without a touchdown throw, ending his NFL-record streak of 54 consecutive games with a touchdown pass.
Brees has often had huge statistical games against his rival, and the Saints will likely need another one to win this key match up. New Orleans is still without their Pro Bowl running back Mark Ingram, currently suspended, and has had to rely on the success of the passing game with superstar wideout Michael Thomas and all-purpose stud Alvin Kamara. They will be attacking an injury depleted Atlanta defense missing Jones, pass rusher Takkarist McKinley, and safety Keanu Neal. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has also had some big statistics against the Saints, and will try to match Brees with his own star weapons in wideout in Julio Jones and running back Tevin Coleman. Ryan will also be without a pro bowl back however, as Devonta Freeman has been ruled out with injury. The improved New Orleans defense has been up and down early this season, but defensive end Cameron Jordan has historically performed well against Atlanta, and they are built to pressure a questionable Falcons front line. Both squads come into this game with 1-1 records, but New Orleans has already dropped a division game with a loss to Tampa Bay in week one. The contest does have the makings of another shootout, but this rivalry has been anything but predictable. The Saints appear to have a defensive advantage over the banged up rival, and Brees is coming off a subpar performance (for him) last week against Cleveland, something he rarely does two weeks in a row.