"College-like," "bitter," "as heated as any," "underappreciated," and "one of the most colorful rivalries in all of sport." Yes Atlanta, we have the Saints on Sunday, and it's time for six days of vigorous seething at full amplitude and stuff like this.
You know you're looking at a great rivalry when you see a fanbase on top of the world that still finds time to take shots. Think about, say, any of UNC's non-Duke rivals. Unless Carolina loses to Wake Forest or N.C. State, they don't really care about either of those schools. Those aren't great rivalries. But Carolina hates Duke before, during, and after every win over every opponent.
This rivalry is the same way:
Comparing resumes: The Birds lost in overtime against what looks to be a mighty Steelers defense, then had to pump the brakes to keep from hanging half a hundred on the crumbling Cardinals. The Saints won a low-scoring rematch with the Vikings before escaping with a win last night in San Francisco that made it clear there are still supernatural forces on their side. This paragraph may sound biased, but I can't figure out how to fix it.
Series history: Atlanta leads, 44-38 and 1-0 in postseason play. Saints board Who Dat Zone recounts a few of the bigger meetings, which would need to be updated to include the "Katrina game," the second-highest rated cable broadcast in history and the beginning of Atlanta's short reign as the NFL's heels. Another perspective, and my yearly link to a Bleacher Report article:
A local radio talk show host printed up a batch of "I Hate the Falcons" t-shirts." The batch sold out in three days. Three decades later, mine still hangs in my locker. I sneer every time I look at it.
Last meeting: The Saints outlasted host Atlanta's B-team 26-23 as Mike Mularkey dialed up his most curious crunch-time potpourri of end-arounds, shovels, and whimsy. In their last Superdome meeting, the Saints won 35-27 on Monday night in a game I'd like to spend seven straight breathless minutes complaining to you about (CALL ME).
Saints to watch: Clutch plays by Jonathan Vilma made the difference in both of last year's meetings, including a confusingly high leap to tip a would-be Matt Ryan touchdown pass into Tracy Porter's hands and a fourth-down stonewalling of Jason Snelling. Let's keep an eye on Vilma this time around.
Also monitoring: Absolutely nothing.
How we feel about all this: We feel furious, and it's only Tuesday. Listen, even as a Tech fan, this is the rivalry game I care most about. By a mile. From making a WE DAT shirt the week before the Falcons knocked the Saints out of the '91 playoffs to watching this video about 180,000 times, this is the one. And I'm not alone; Saints fans can't even win a Super Bowl without mentioning the Falcons.
Vegas says: Vegas has not decided yet, since the Saints only finished playing nine hours ago. New Orleans will be significantly favored, as they should be. They're likely still the better team, and have one of the league's best home-field advantages. I bet on the Saints to cover last year in the Superdome, and they failed.