Now that the Week 15 preliminaries are over after hard-fought wins against the New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, we now brace for what promises to be a grudge rematch between the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons.
Two venerable southern NFL franchises with rich, rich histories getting after it, beginning at high noon Christmas Eve Sunday inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Let’s brawl y’all.
I feel like silver-tongued ring announcer Michael Buffer should be in the house and make the pre-game introductions for this key NFC South showdown between the Saints (10-4) and Falcons (9-5).
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There is no love lost between these teams.
When they were last together Dec. 7 on Thursday Night Football from Mercedes-Benz Stadium, we saw Saints coach Sean Payton issuing a mock choke gesture to Falcons running back Devonta Freeman in reference to Atlanta’s historic collapse against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI.
Then, in the waning minutes, we saw Payton charge on to the field, drawing an in-game unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and later a $10,000 fine from the league office.
Payton’s antics were born, perhaps, from what he considered to be questionable, partisan officiating. In other words, the homestanding Falcons received nine first downs via penalties, the Saints zero.
Payton’s sideline burst toward an official came moments after the Falcons preserved their important 20-17 victory with an end zone-interception by New Orleans-born/former LSU star linebacker Deion Jones of Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
Afterward, Freeman went on social media and fired the first shot across the bow, tweeting “AINTS lol.”
Freeman pulled the tweet and Payton reportedly texted his apologies to Freeman, who seemed inclined to bury the incident and move forward.
“It ain’t no grudge,” Freeman said after the Falcons narrowly escaped with a 24-21 victory at Tampa Bay on Monday night when Bucs kicker Patrick Murray missed wide right on a potential game-tying 54-yard field goal as time expired.
All’s fair in love and war, right?
So here we are on the eve of Sweet Week 16.
The stakes are high. The game carries significant division and playoff implications. Each team has positioned itself to claim the NFC South by winning out and host at least one home playoff game, either a wildcard matchup or in the divisional round.
OK, Mr. Buffer, the floor is yours.
“Let’s Get Ready to Rumble.”
Brian Allee-Walsh is a long-time Saints reporter based in New Orleans. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.