The Atlanta Falcons have had a few close calls, but only one blemish on their record. It came at New Orleans.
On Thursday night, the archrival Saints visit the Georgia Dome, with the Falcons not only looking for vengeance, but with a chance to get in position to clinch a playoff spot.
‘‘I didn’t know that,’’ running back Michael Turner said when told the Falcons take the NFC South with a victory and a Tampa Bay loss at Denver on Sunday. ‘‘You just focus on this week. We know nothing is guaranteed.’’
Well, some things are pretty close to a certainty, such as the Saints giving the Falcons a tussle. New Orleans has won 11 of the last 13 meetings, including that 31-27 victory on Nov. 11. Of course, the Saints (No. 15 in the AP Pro32) are a much different — read better — team at the Superdome than in Atlanta’s building.
To beat Atlanta (No. 3, AP Pro 32), which is a 3½- point favorite, New Orleans probably needs to turn this game into a shootout. The problem there is that the Falcons are pretty good at those type of games and rank sixth in yards gained this year, ahead of the Saints, who are eighth.
It should be an entertaining game for the national TV audience, and a profitable night for the Falcons, who will secure at least a wild card of they win and Seattle loses.
No. 7 New York Giants (pick-em) at No. 16 Washington, Monday night
Not having to give points make this an obvious ...
BEST BET: GIANTS, 27-24
No. 10 Indianapolis (plus 4 1/2) at No. 20 Detroit
Hold that challenge flag, coach Schwartz, especially on long TD runs.
UPSET SPECIAL: COLTS, 22-20
No. 12 Tampa Bay (plus 6 1/2) at No. 5 Denver
Buccaneers are testing everyone and will give Broncos a mile-high scare.
No. 12 Seattle (plus 4) at No. 8 Chicago
Bears are a M.A.S.H. unit, and thankful Seahawks travel so poorly.
No. 17 Minnesota (plus 9) at No. 9 Green Bay
Packers also are banged-up, so Vikes keep it close.
No. 2 San Francisco (minus 7) at No. 22 St. Louis
No deadlocks this time.
No. 4 New England (minus 7 1/2) at No. 19 Miami
A win and the Patriots are in the playoffs with yet another AFC East crown.
No. 1 Houston (minus 4 1/2) at No. 27 Tennessee
Texans have some tough ones coming up after this victory.
No. 28 Arizona (plus 4 1/2) at No. 24 New York Jets
A matchup in which Mark Sanchez is the far better QB.
No. 26 Carolina (minus 1) at No. 32 Kansas City
Unlike Eagles, Chiefs are playing hard. But Cam Newton still will dominate.
No. 29 Philadelphia (plus 10) at No. 18 Dallas
Speaking of the sputtering Eagles ...
No. 30 Jacksonville (plus 6) at No. 23 Buffalo
Jaguars got their other win for the year last week.
No. 11 Cincinnati (minus 1) at No. 21 San Diego
How will the Chargers find a way to mess up this one?
No. 14 Pittsburgh (OFF) at No. 6 Baltimore
Ravens secure at least a playoff spot, even if Roethlisberger returns for Steelers.
No. 25 Cleveland (OFF) at No. 31 Oakland
Finally, a team that won’t blow out the Raiders. But the Browns will beat them.
Against spread: 8-3-1 (73-91-6). Straight up: 13-3 (110-65-1)
Best Bet: 6-4-2 against spread, 10-2 straight up.
Upset special: 8-4 against spread, 6-6 straight up.
Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL