After a well-rested bye weekend off, it's time to get back to the business of football. There is a ton of national media flocking to Atlanta this Sunday and there is ramped-up interest locally for this NFC South showdown. The stadium, the press box and sidelines will all be packed. And for good reason.
Both the Falcons and Buccaneers are 5-2, playing good football and eying first place in the division with a win. Division games always have added importance. But this rivalry is different and tends to bring out some intense emotions on both sides.
This series started in 1977, a year after the Buccaneers came into existence, and the teams played just about every season with seemingly nothing on the line. For both clubs, it was just another game on the schedule. It wasn't until the Bucs of defensive-minded head coach Tony Dungy of the mid-1990's that this series evolved into a true rivalry.
With a punishing defensive style, Dungy's crew would impose their will on a team and physically beat them up until they were knocked out in the fourth quarter with the swiftness of a vicious Mike Tyson right cross to the chin. During the Bucs' perennial playoff run under Dungy, his team would march through Atlanta with wins on three consecutive occasions in 1997, 1999 and 2000 in impressive fashion. Falcons fans were not amused with their counterparts to the sunny South and the way they won games.
This rivalry picked up more steam in 2002 when the Falcons and Bucs were aligned in the new NFC South. The bully's on the block would now come calling two times a year.
The Birds stopped Tampa's six-game winning streak in the series in 2003 with a 30-28 victory on the road. Atlanta split games in 2004 and 2008 while sweeping the series in 2006 and 2009 to flex their muscles and get back on the positive side of the ledger. The Falcons head into Sunday's meeting having captured three games in a row and the past two in the Dome.
With an intensity that mirrors closely to the Falcons-Saints annual affairs, the one constant that stands out among these teams is the physical nature of the games. Emotions run high with every contest in this series, regardless of records. That will not change this Sunday. The outcome could hinge on who can keep their emotions in check while at the same time which team exhibits the most physicality.