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Time Machine: Close game expected Sunday


Trends. Everybody likes to look at trends. And trends come in all kinds of forms.

It could be a trend in fashion or the entertainment world, or a trend in the stock market. People enjoy trends, and it has become a popular term for making comparisons.

It's also a common practice to examine trends in sports. The media love to dissect everything, and what better way than to take a look at a game's tendencies. Some believe it's as good an indicator as you can possibly get when trying to predict future outcomes.

Even though the Falcons haven't won in the "Crescent City" since 2002, the trend in this series is that the Birds have played plenty of close games with their arch nemesis, especially during the past decade.

Since 2000, the Falcons-Saints yearly battle royale at the Superdome has been decided by a total of 73 points through nine games. That's an average of eight points per contest. (A 34-31 Falcons win in 2005 was played in San Antonio because of Hurricane Katrina). The slim margin of victory in the bayou between these two combatants includes games with the final scores coming by a mere seven, two, three, seven, six, four and eight points.

Head coach Mike Smith has been involved in a pair of tough scuffles himself since taking over the Falcons' reins. A total of 12 points separate the victor in the two games he has traveled to New Orleans. Smith has quickly grasped the intensity of these games between these pair of Southern rivals and Division foes, which have been banging heads since 1967.

"I found out real quickly that New Orleans is the biggest rival in terms of the fan base here," Smith said this week. "It's going to be an exciting atmosphere. I'm looking forward to it and it can't get here quick enough."

Only one Falcons player remains on the team from the last time Atlanta defeated the Saints in New Orleans. Wide receiver Brian Finneran caught four passes (second highest on the team) for 62 yards that day with a long catch of 28 yards to help the Falcons pull out a 37-35 victory on Oct. 27, 2002. He knows what this rivalry means to both cities and the tendency for these games to go down to the bitter end. Finn will be playing in his 17th game in this series and with his big touchdown catch against the Cardinals last Sunday he could be on target again to affect the outcome yet once more.

Will the trend of playing tightly-contested games in New Orleans continue this Sunday? Taking an early advantage in the NFC South for the winner is in the balance.

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