This must have seemed like a great matchup when the game schedules were set before the season: the New Orleans Saints, expected to bounce back with head coach Sean Payton reinstated after the bounty scandal, visiting divisional rivals and Super Bowl contenders Atlanta Falcons (13-3 in 2012), for whom prolific tight end Tony Gonzalez returns for one final attempt to win that elusive ring? Juicy.
The two teams faced one another in week 1 and the Saints won at home, 23-17. Since then their fortunes have gone down very different paths, with the 8-2 Saints atop the NFC South and the 2-8 Falcons lying below the lowly 2-8 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with whom they've split the series.
The Saints are getting it done with the potent Payton-Brees offense allied to a defense that's much improved under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. The Falcons aren't getting it done with a defense that's giving up 29.2 points per game, good for 29th in the league, and a rushing game that isn't getting much from free agent pickup Steven Jackson (3.3 yards per attempt). Has he hit the wall in his age 30 season?
Tonight's game has no direct relevance to the Bears - but it's probably worth keeping in mind during the action that the remaining games on these two teams' schedules (Saints, Falcons) are mostly against NFC teams, including several in playoff contention: the 49ers, Seahawks, Panthers x3... and, much as I would like to, I'm not ruling out the Packers just yet.
This is your Thursday Night Football open thread. Kick it!