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Playoffs are in sight

Playoffs are in sight

Playoffs are in sight

Atlanta Falcons running back Michael ...


FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — The Saints will try to clinch the division title and the Falcons will try to lock down a playoff spot when the teams meet on Monday night.

Now Orleans (11-3) has a two-game lead over Atlanta (9-5) in the NFC South. The Saints, who have clinched a playoff berth, also would bolster their plans for a home game in the playoffs by beating the Falcons in New Orleans.

The Falcons could clinch a playoff berth and preserve their hopes of winning the division by beating the Saints. If the Falcons win their last two regular-season games and the Saints lose two straight, Atlanta would win the NFC South by having a better record against division teams.

"We control what we can control," said Falcons coach Mike Smith on Monday. "It's obvious our guys are familiar with the scenarios we are in."

The Saints are looking to protect their No. 2 seed in the NFC. With that honor comes a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the second round.

"The sky's the limit and that's where we're trying to get to," said Saints safety Roman Harper. "Our goal is nothing less than a victory in the Super Bowl, and right now we just trying to stay focused and take it one step at a time."

The Falcons, coming off Thursday night's win over Jacksonville, have extra time to prepare for the Saints. Losses by the Giants and Bears on Sunday helped to solidify Atlanta's wild-card hopes.

Smith said he won't have to talk to his players about what will be on the line in New Orleans.

I know our guys are aware of it," he said. "We're not going to change our preparation, how we prepare. We try to be as steady as we can and just continue to move forward like we have all season."

The Falcons close their regular season with a home game against Tampa Bay on Jan. 1. The Saints close with a home game against Carolina.

"I think it's going to be a very interesting two weeks for a lot of teams," Smith said. "The way the schedule is put together with all the division teams playing one another, I think it makes for a great finish to the regular season."

The Saints have a six-game winning streak. Atlanta has won two straight.

Atlanta and Detroit (9-5) are the NFC wild-card leaders. The Falcons' 23-16 win at Detroit on Oct. 23 gives Atlanta the tie-breaker over the Lions for the No. 5 seed in the current playoff standings.

Smith on Monday gave what he said would be his final comments on the discomfort that caused him to be examined in a Charlotte hospital following the Falcons' win over the Panthers on Dec. 11.

Smith, 52, had follow-up examinations on Friday that he said revealed the cause of his problem.

"I want to tell you that it's not my heart," he said. "My heart is fine. I am fine. The doctors though have devised a medical plan for me to deal with the issues and I can assure you again it's not my heart."

Smith did not disclose the cause of his problem. He said his doctors' plan would not affect his coaching duties.

Notes: Smith said starting CB Brent Grimes, who has missed three games following surgery on his right knee, is expected to participate in Tuesday's light practice. CB Kelvin Hayden (toe) may return on Thursday. Hayden has missed four straight games. ... The players will be off on Wednesday. The team will fly to New Orleans on Sunday and have a Christmas Day walk-through session in their hotel ballroom. ... Smith said his coaches went through their Pro Bowl votes on Monday morning. "We take it serious," said Smith, who said coaches reviewed tape of players they had not seen this season. Players will do their Pro Bowl voting on Tuesday.



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