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John DeShazier: Saints, Falcons know they're playing in 'significant' game Sunday

Saints could clinch division with win and Carolina loss

Loquacious Atlanta Falcons receiver Roddy White hasn't been immune from yielding to the occasional exaggeration during his NFL career.

Wednesday, though, wasn't one of those days.

With the Falcons (5-9) set to play the New Orleans Saints (6-8) on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, White had a pretty good handle on a game whose outcome will have a significant influence on who claims the NFC South Division title.

The Saints lead Carolina (5-8-1) by half-game, and Atlanta by one game.

"I feel like we're already in playoff mode, and we've got two weeks left in the season," White said. "This is it. You lose this game, we're pretty much done. We're already in playoff mode, we know we've got to win our next two games to make the playoffs, and that's the only way we're going to make it. We're locked in, we're going to take one game at a time and we're going to go out here and be focused and be mentally and physically prepared.

"It's a very important game for both teams. The season we've been having, we're both right there. The winner of this game is probably going to win the division, so the excitement will be there, everybody will be pumped, everybody will be ready to go."

For the Saints, manufacturing a two-game winning streak for the second time this season would be monumental. With a victory and a Carolina loss, New Orleans could clinch the division title, and a home playoff game, Sunday.

"Obviously, this is an important game," Coach Sean Payton said Wednesday. "It's significant, and our players understand that. Both teams will have that sense of urgency and they'll understand the significance of it as it pertains to our division."

The Saints, in fact, currently are in the position they hoped to be in at this time of the season – first place in the division, in control, needing only to win to earn a playoff berth, rather than depend on external assistance.

"This is, at the beginning of the season, what you hoped for, is the opportunity to be playing for something significant at this time of year," quarterback Drew Brees said. "That's what we have a chance to do, and it's against a very good divisional opponent. I know the fans enjoy this rivalry, so it doesn't get any better than this.

"They're a very good football team, they're playing very well right now. We know what's at stake. (It's a) home game – we want to re-establish ourselves at home. Mostly, we just want to get better. We just want to get a little bit better than we were last week."

Part of the improvement displayed last week, and in New Orleans' 31-15 victory over Chicago on Monday night, was in the secondary.

The Saints intercepted Bears quarterback Jay Cutler three times, twice by rookie safety Pierre Warren. And first-time starters Terrence Frederick and Jamarca Sanford held up well under pressure.

"They've put some guys in and those guys have made some plays," White said. "Those guys are going to be playing with a lot of confidence. I don't think they've played a group like ours yet, as far as depth as wide receiver and how many guys we can put out there that can make plays. It'll be different in that aspect."

It also will be different in that the Saints now control whether they win the division and earn a home playoff game, which means the Superdome figures to be a raucous venue Sunday.

"It's gonna be loud and crazy in there," White said. "I can't wait to get down there. Can't wait."

Photos of Drew Brees against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, September 7, 2014. Photos by Michael C. Hebert. (New Orleans Saints photos)

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