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NFL Schedule 2012: Will The Falcons / Saints Primetime Christmas Game Survive BountyGate?

The New Orleans Times-Picayune is reporting that, in advance of Tuesday's 7 p.m. ET official unveiling of the NFL's 2012 schedule, the Saints' home game dates have been leaked:

WEEK 1: Sunday, Sept. 9

WEEK 3: Sunday, Sept. 23

WEEK 5: Sunday, Oct. 7

WEEK 9: Monday, Nov. 5

WEEK 10: Sunday, Nov. 11

WEEK 12: Sunday, Nov. 25

WEEK 15: Sunday, Dec. 16

WEEK 17: Sunday, Dec. 30

This means little for Falcons fans, except that the national love affair with the Saints has officially peaked and receded, at least in terms of television coverage. The two teams have enjoyed a recent "tradition" of occupying the Monday Night Football slot post-Christmas, with Atlanta due to host in 2012 if - IF - ESPN and the league deem the rivalry worth a national stage so late in the season. Specifically, fans should be looking for the Week 16 (December 24, tentatively) date to be a primetime game in the Georgia Dome.

Unlike NBC's "Sunday Night Football," which enjoys "flex scheduling" in the second half of the season, ESPN and "MNF" are locked into their picks for the duration of the year, meaning that the occasionally meaningless, terrible match-up makes national TV in November and December (remember all those Colts game you didn't need to see last season?)

If the wonderfully awesome Christmas game tradition is scrapped, it's a clear sign the networks have no faith in the BountyGate-hampered Saints. That's fine and good, but hurts the national spotlight on the Falcons in the process. In short, there's always a new an innovative way to loathe the Saints.

For more on the 2012 NFL schedule, head over to The Falcoholic and SB Nation's NFL page.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.