INSIDE SCOOP

Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

November 22, 2018 at 1:34 am.

Saints know taking foot off the gas isn’t an option

The New Orleans Saints have put themselves in position to claim a first-round playoff bye and perhaps the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

At 9-1, they are tied with the Los Angeles Rams for fewest losses in the NFC and hold the tie-breaker over the Rams by virtue of a 45-35 victory against them three weeks ago.

They have taken a three-game lead in the NFC South in their quest to repeat as division champion.

Nonetheless, New Orleans still has a lot of work to do within the division in addition to trying to reach its conference-wide goals.

The Saints are just 1-1 in the division and have four games left against division opponents, including both games against second-place Carolina. Their game against Atlanta on Thursday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome is their last home game before a three-game road trip that includes divisional games against the Panthers and Tampa Bay, which handed New Orleans its only loss in the season opener.

In other words, the Saints aren’t guaranteed anything other than a winning season and they can still lose the division if they don’t continue to take care of business.

The Falcons are just 4-6 and a long shot to win the division, but they know that a win against the Saints could help them in the wild-card fight.

Defensive end Cameron Jordan said he expects Atlanta to be a desperate team just as Philadelphia was when the defending Super Bowl champions came into the Superdome with a 4-5 record last Sunday. The Saints had little trouble with them, prevailing 48-7.

“We knew we were going to get the best punches from Philly this past week,” Jordan said. “(Saints head coach Sean Payton) said we were going to treat the team like they were backed into a corner. We are going to take their best punches and I think we took those in stride and now Atlanta ‘s headed to us and we’re going to get more of the same thing. This is something we have to take care of.”

The Saints are operating on a short week, but so are the Falcons, who lost at home to Dallas last Sunday.

“Usually these Thursday games are division games,” Payton said, “but it helps when you played them already and you don’t have a lot of time and you’re kind of really having to cover what you do in a normal week in two days.”

These teams met in Week 3 and New Orleans prevailed 43-37 in overtime in Atlanta for the second win in its current nine-game winning streak.

Saints running back Mark Ingram II missed that game while serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing drugs.

“It’s a strong rivalry,” Ingram said. “It’s a division opponent. Lots of battles. Many, many battles, tough, hard-fought games. We know what the rivalry consists of. We know it’s a division game and what that means so we have to go out here and just handle business.”

SERIES HISTORY: 99th regular-season meeting. Falcons lead series, 51-47, and also won the only playoff meeting in 1991 in New Orleans. The Saints have won the last two meetings, including a 43-37 overtime triumph in Atlanta on Sept. 23 and the last meeting in New Orleans, a 23-13 triumph last season. Since Sean Payton became Saints head coach in 2006, New Orleans has a 17-8 record in the series. This is the 100th overall game against New Orleans’ most frequent and most bitter rival. These teams have been division rivals since 1970.