The Rivalry began in 1967 when the Saints entered the NFL as an expansion team. The teams were both placed in the NFC West in 1970, resulting in the teams playing two games against each other every year since (with the exception of the strike-shortened 1987 season). The teams were both placed in the newly-formed NFC South in the 2002 realignment. The series was rarely noted by the national media during the teams' first decades of existence, probably due to both teams' long stretches of futility. However, during the late 2000s and 2010s, both teams sustained success and routinely battled for the top spot in the NFC South.
Games between the two teams have riveted their respective regions for more than 40 years; fans of both teams consider the other their most important and hated opponent. ESPN.com writer Len Pasquarelli has cited the rivalry as one of the best in sports: "Every year, bus caravans loaded with rowdy (and usually very inebriated) fans make the seven-hour trip between the two cities. Unless you've attended a Falcons-Saints debauchery-filled afternoon, you'll just have to take my word for how much fun it really can be."
The Falcons currently lead the all-time series 52–48. The Falcons won the teams' only playoff meeting in the 1991 Wild Card round.
New Orleans Saints
Notable games in the series
The rivalry first began to heat up when the two teams became division opponents in 1970, allowing them to play twice per season. Both teams were placed in the National Football Conference's West Division that year
Atlanta's 62-7 victory at Tulane Stadium in 1973 remains the most lopsided loss in Saints history.
A pair of last-minute wins by Atlanta in 1978 with playoff implications helped to intensify the rivalry. With the Falcons down 17–13 in a late-season match-up at the Superdome and only 0:19 left, Falcons quarterback Steve Bartkowski aired a Hail Mary pass (called in the playbook "Big Ben Right") down to the end zone; the ball was tipped by Falcons receiver Wallace Francis into the hands of his teammate Alfred Jackson, giving the Falcons a 20-17 victory. The teams met again two weeks later in Atlanta. Once again, the Falcons trailed 17–13, with only 0:53 remaining and on their own 28-yard line; Bartkowski led the team down the field and scored with only five seconds left, stunning the Saints and propelling the Falcons to their very first playoff berth. The Falcons finished 9–7, while the Saints finished 7–9; the two last-second victories had decided the final 1978 playoffs slot.
After a third straight wild win by Atlanta (this time in overtime) to open the 1979 season, the Saints had had enough and blew out the Falcons in the second of the two 1979 meetings, 37–6.
The only postseason meeting was played in the Wild Card Round on December 28, 1991, in New Orleans. The Saints entered the 1991 playoffs as the NFC West champions while the Falcons were a wild card team. Atlanta won the game, 27-20, as Falcons quarterback Chris Miller threw the game-winning 61-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Michael Haynes with 2:41 left in the fourth quarter.
In the midst of New Orleans' troubled 2005 season in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, they lost to the Falcons in a "home" game in San Antonio. The Saints raced to a 10-3 lead in the second quarter before a fumble was returned by DeAngelo Hall of the Falcons for a 66-yard touchdown to tie the game. On the final play of the second quarter, the Falcons blocked a field goal try and Demorrio Williams ran back a 59-yard touchdown. An exchange of six touchdowns ensued and Devery Henderson caught a 15-yard game-tying score, leaving the game 31-31 in the final minute of regulation. After a Saints penalty on a questionable call, Falcons kicker Todd Peterson's 36-yard field goal on the final play rea 34-31 Falcons win. Saints coach Jim Haslett was so angry over the late penalty that he repeatedly ripped the "chickenshit" calls by referee Bill Carollo and his crew.
The Falcons were the opponent in the Saints' first game in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city and the team, held on September 25, 2006. The Saints won the nationally televised match 23–3. At the time, the game was the highest-rated program in the history of ESPN and the second-highest-rated cable program. Early in the first quarter, Saints safety Steve Gleason blocked a punt by Falcons kicker Michael Koenen and Curtis Deloatch recovered the ball in the Falcons' end zone for a Saints touchdown. The Saints dominated the game and went on to have the most successful season in their history up to that time. In July 2012, "Rebirth", a statue depicting Gleason blocking the punt, was erected outside the Superdome; a news report commented that the blocked punt "etched Steve Gleason into Saints lore and became symbolic of New Orleans' resilience in the face of disaster".
The Saints were on a quest for an undefeated season in 2009 when, on November 2, they hosted the Falcons on Monday Night Football. Atlanta led 14–7 after one quarter. New Orleans then erupted with 21 second quarter points and held off a late Atlanta comeback effort when a Darren Sharper intercepted a Matt Ryan pass at the Saints 5, ending a 35-27 Saints win. The win raised New Orleans to a 13–0 record; The Saints would go on to win Super Bowl XLIV, the only Super Bowl victory for either team.
In the 2010 season, both games had important implications for the playoff race. The Falcons won a week 3 match-up at the Superdome 27-24 in overtime (after Saints kicker Garrett Hartley made a last-second field goal to tie the game in regulation, but then missed another kick that would have won it in overtime). The win gave Atlanta an advantage in the standings that the Falcons retained all season. In the Week 16 rematch, the teams met for the fifth time in six seasons on Monday Night Football, with the NFC South title still on the line; in a typically close game the Saints held on for a 17–14 win, clinching a playoff berth.
In 2012, the Saints struggled through a down year after incurring heavy league penalties from their bounty scandal, but the Saints still managed to hand the Falcons their first loss of the season, 31–27 at the Superdome in week 10. Three weeks later in Atlanta, Drew Brees threw 5 interceptions and his record of consecutive games with a touchdown pass was snapped as the Falcons controlled the rematch 23–13.
In 2013, the teams met in a highly promoted Week 1 match-up. The Saints held off a late Atlanta drive to win 23–17, then went on to win their first five games while the Falcons, hampered by injuries, unexpectedly suffered through a loss-filled campaign. In the rematch, the Saints again held on to win another close game, 17–13, marked by Brees moving past Warren Moon into fifth place on the all-time career passing list.
The January 1, 2017 match-up was the final regular season NFL game played in the Georgia Dome. In the Falcons' 38–32 victory, Atlanta clinched the second seed in the playoffs.
On December 7, 2017 the two teams had their first meeting at Atlanta's new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. With the Falcons leading 20–17, Saints quarterback Drew Brees was intercepted by linebacker Deion Jones in the end zone with less than two minutes remaining in regulation. New Orleans still had the possibility of gaining another possession but that ended when Saints Head Coach Sean Peyton was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for running onto the field and arguing with a game official. The penalty gave Atlanta a first down allowing the Falcons to keep possession and win the game 20-17.
On September 23, 2018 New Orleans beat Atlanta at Mercedes-Benz Stadium 43-37 in overtime, after nine lead changes throughout the game. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan completed 26 of 35 attempts for 374 yards and a career high 5 touchdowns. Saints quarterback Drew Brees completed 39 of 49 pass attempts for 396 yards and 3 touchdowns and also ran for 2 touchdowns. In this game, Brees would break Brett Favre's NFL record for most career completions with 6,326.
The National Football Conference – Southern Division or NFC South is one of the four divisions of the National Football Conference (NFC) in the National Football League (NFL). It was created prior to the 2002 NFL season, when the league realigned divisions after expanding to 32 teams. The NFC South currently has four member clubs: the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Prior to the 2002 season, the Buccaneers belonged to the AFC West (1976) and NFC Central (1977–2001), while the other three teams were part of the geographically inaccurate NFC West. As a matter of fact, the South has more multiple-season members of the old NFC West than the current NFC West does (the Seattle Seahawks are in the current West, but they only played in that division during their inaugural season).
The NFC South is the only division since the 2002 realignment to have each of its teams make a conference championship game appearance as well as a Super Bowl appearance: Tampa Bay (2002), Atlanta (2004, 2012, and 2016), Carolina (2003, 2005 and 2015), and New Orleans (2006, 2009, and 2018). Also since 2002, each team has won at least three division titles, the only such division in the league. It is also the only NFL division to have zero division sweeps by any of its member teams.
Entering 2016, the Saints have the most wins among division members. The Saints record is 356–435–5; their win in Super Bowl XLIV is the highlight of an 8–9 playoff record. The Falcons record is 330–432–6 with a playoff record of 9–13; the Falcons lost in Super Bowls XXXIII and LI, the latter in overtime. The Buccaneers record is 241–386–1 with a victory in their only Super Bowl appearance, Super Bowl XXXVII, and an overall playoff record of 6–9. The Panthers have the best playoff record (9–8) of any team in the division with losses in Super Bowls XXXVIII and 50 and the best overall record in the division (166–169–1).
The NFC South is the only NFC division not to have any teams that predate the 1960 launch of the American Football League, the NFL’s former rival league. The oldest team is the Falcons, who began play in 1966, and the Saints began play only a year later in 1967. Each of the other NFC divisions has 3 teams that began play earlier than 1960, while the remaining three such teams are in the American Football Conference.
The NFC South became the second division in five years to have a champion with a losing record, as the 2014 Carolina Panthers won the division with a 7–8–1 record. (The 2010 Seattle Seahawks won the NFC West with a 7–9 record.) Additionally, Carolina became the first team to repeat as NFC South champions since the creation of the division. The Panthers are the only team to win the NFC South three consecutive times from 2013 to 2015. On January 7, 2018 two NFC South teams (Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints) met in the NFL playoffs for the first time since the division was created in 2002.
Atlanta Falcons vs. New Orleans Saints Season-by-Season Results
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