Each week, Falcons vice president of football communications Reggie Roberts sits down with an expert and talks about the Falcons as well as what's going on in the rest of the league. This week's expert is Times-Picayune NFL/Saints writer Jeff Duncan.
Reggie Roberts: Give us your assessment of the Saints — the team you cover for the Times-Picayune. What kind of game do you anticipate when the Saints head to the Georgia Dome to face the Falcons on Monday Night Football?
Jeff Duncan: The Saints are playing well, in spite of their loss in Baltimore last week. They had won six consecutive games before the Ravens contest and are about as healthy as they've been all season. I expect a typical Saints-Falcons game on Monday night. It will be competitive, intense and high-scoring. In the first matchup, the Falcons outplayed the Saints and were the more aggressive team for four quarters. I think they kind of snuck up on them in that game. I expect the Falcons to get the Saints' "A game" on Monday night.
RR: These two teams are pretty evenly matched and always seem to play games that are decided by just a few points. Why do you think that is?
JD: It's a great rivalry game between familiar opponents. The clubs know each other's personnel and tendencies, which makes for close, exciting contests. Over the past two decades, they've also fielded pretty competitive teams, so I think that always makes it a tight game. Other than a down year here or there, for the most part, Atlanta and New Orleans have been fairly competitive leaguewide over the past two decades.
RR: With two weeks remaining in the 2010 NFL regular season, give us your six playoff teams including division winners and wild card entrants from both the AFC and the NFC.
JD: In the NFC, I like the Falcons, Eagles, Bears and 49ers to win their divisions, with the Falcons and Eagles to earn the first-round byes. I think the Saints will earn the No. 5 seed and I still think the Packers can slip in and win the No. 6 seed in the NFC. They are a very good team that has had a tough, tough season.
In the AFC, it looks like the Patriots, Steelers, Chargers and Colts will be division winners, with New England and Pittsburgh earning the top seeds. The Ravens and Jets look like locks for the wild-card spots. Both are very good and could easily advance to the conference championship game.
RR: Let's switch back to Monday Night's pivotal NFC South matchup. The Saints still have one of the most high-powered offenses in football while Atlanta's defense continues their steady path of improvement. What hidden intangibles — if any — will help decide this game?
JD: In my opinion, the Saints have struggled a little bit with motivation this season in the wake of the Super Bowl title. They haven't played with the same edge that they did last year. That explains losses and near misses to so many inferior opponents this season. Motivation won't be a problem for the Saints on Monday night. The Falcons have established themselves as the best team in the NFC all season and they made a statement when they came into New Orleans and beat the Saints earlier this season. The Saints have been really tough in these "big-stage" games. They beat the Cowboys on Thanksgiving and the Steelers on Halloween. A year ago, they routed the Patriots in an epic Monday night performance. With a national platform and the league's best team as the opponent, I think the Saints will give the Falcons their best performance of the season. Whether that's good enough or not remains to be seen.
RR: Can you give us an update as to what you are hearing on the NFL labor front?
JD: Like with any high-level negotiations, there is a lot of posturing on the part of both sides. I really think the deal will get settled this offseason. I have great respect for both Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith, and I think both are motivated to avoid a work stoppage. I'll be stunned if an agreement in principle isn't worked out before free agency. When it gets down to brass tacks, both sides will compromise.