METAIRIE, La. — The good news for New Orleans is that it knows Atlanta.
It knows the coaching staff, it knows the players and it knows the Falcons’ scheme.
Because the bad news is that the Saints (8-2) have to go on the road four days after a physical grudge game against San Francisco to play Atlanta (2-8) on Thursday night.
There will be no time for any physical work this week.
“You can’t go out and practice when you have three days, four days before a game,” Saints right tackle Zach Strief said. “You just can’t. You can’t go out and put pads on and hit people, especially this point in the season. Physically we’ll be ready to play. That’s the goal this week, is get yourself physically ready and we’ll get the mental reps to know what we’re doing.”
Every team in the NFL plays a Thursday night game. It just so happens that for the past two seasons, New Orleans’ has come against the city’s biggest rival after playing one of the league’s most physical teams.
A year ago, when New Orleans was fighting for relevance after an 0-4 start, the Saints lost a taxing 31-21 battle to the 49ers.
Four days later, Drew Brees played one of his worst games ever, tossing five interceptions, including on three of the final four possessions.
New Orleans lost 23-13, fell to 5-7 and never threatened a postseason bid again.
But while New Orleans is 2-3 on Thursday night games with Coach Sean Payton on the sidelines and 2-4 since 2006, it helps that the opponent for this game is a known commodity, one the Saints already have played.
“You go back to the scouting reports,” Payton said. “You kind of update maybe the changes because there have been some changes since week one ourselves and I’m sure for Atlanta in regards to personnel.”
The Saints have had success against Atlanta since Payton arrived. New Orleans is 12-3 since 2006, and 11-2 with Payton on the sideline, against their bitterest of rivals.
That means that regardless of how Atlanta is doing – and the Falcons have gone 67-45 since ’06 – the Saints have figured out a way to be up for the game.
So, regardless of their 2-8 record this season and New Orleans’ season-opening win against the Falcons, the Saints will be ready.
“Pretty hard to overlook Atlanta, both from the standpoint in the locker room that’s a team that has been a rival for us, a game we feel like we can’t lose,” Strief said. “And trust me – the people of New Orleans will not let us look past the Atlanta game.”