Saints at Falcons -- Week 13 

Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta (turf, indoors) 

When: Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET (NFL Network) 

Spread: Falcons by 3 

Records: Falcons (Overall: 10-1, NFC South: 2-1); Saints (Overall: 5-6, NFC South: 2-1). 

Past results: Two most recent meetings -- Nov. 11, 2012: Saints 31, Falcons 27; Dec. 26, 2011: Saints 45, Falcons 16. Series record: Falcons lead the regular season series 45-41, but the Saints have won the past four meetings, including seven of the last eight. 

What matters: The Falcons' magic number for clinching the NFC South title is two. Any combination of Atlanta wins and Tampa Bay losses gives the Falcons the title and guarantees them a spot in the postseason. Should the Falcons win, they’d also need Denver to defeat the Buccaneers on Sunday to clinch. At this point, the division is of little concern. Atlanta is focused on claiming the NFC’s No. 1 seed to guarantee itself home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Falcons are battling the 49ers (8-2-1) and the Bears (8-3) for the top seed. On a more emotional note, the Saints are unquestionably the Falcons’ biggest rival due to the number of close games they’ve played and their natural proximity. Just three weeks ago, New Orleans ruined the Falcons’ bid for an undefeated season. That memory is still fresh and undeniably still stings. 

Who matters: If it wasn’t crystal clear how much the Falcons missed WR Julio Jones when he was hampered by an ankle injury prior to Sunday’s win over Tampa Bay, then it should be pretty obvious now. Five of Jones’ six catches against the Buccaneers went for first downs (the other went for nine yards) and no play was bigger than QB Matt Ryan’s 80-yard touchdown pass on a simple fly route to Jones on Atlanta’s first possession of the second half. Aside from the obvious benefits, his presence alone alters defensive schemes. The Bucs were willing to test Jones' “injured” ankle -- he was a game time decision -- with single coverage and he in turn had a career-high 147 yards. The only reason that Jones didn’t crack 100 yards three weeks ago against the Saints was because Atlanta’s other two top receivers, Tony Gonzalez (122) and Roddy White (114), each cracked the century mark themselves. 

Key Matchups: The Saints’ secondary is crucial to keeping Falcons receivers at bay. It should come as no surprise that four of the Saints’ top five tacklers from their previous meeting were defensive backs. Ryan was essentially forced to throw it 52 times for 408 yards because of the Falcons' pathetic rushing attack. Against Tampa Bay, there was a significant changing of the guard in the Falcons backfield. Regular starter Michael Turner was relegated to 38 percent of the offensive snaps while upstart RB Jacquizz Rodgers was in for 52 percent of Atlanta’s plays. Rodgers is a significant upgrade to Turner, who’s often tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage. Rodgers showed his versatile potential against the Bucs with 10 rushes for 49 yards and a score but also two catches for 30 yards out of the backfield. It’s a new offensive look that puts more pressure on the Saints’ leading-tackler LB Curtis Lofton (92). … Saints QB Drew Brees was given way too much time in the pocket in their last meeting and the Falcons will need to generate more pressure from ends John Abraham and Kroy Biermann along the edges. 

Injuries of note: Playing on a short week is never good for a banged up team, but that’s the situation facing the Falcons. Defensive tackle Peria Jerry missed Sunday’s game vs. Tampa Bay and didn’t participate in the team’s walkthrough on Monday as he was dealing with an ankle injury. Cornerback Asante Samuel re-aggravated a shoulder injury that’s plagued him for two weeks but he played through it and helped defend the Bucs’ last-second Hail Mary attempt. He didn’t participate in the team’s walkthrough, either. 

Inside stuff: Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon had six tackles in his return from an ankle injury after missing the Falcons’ past three games. He was instrumental in shoring up the team’s tackling woes. Atlanta limited Bucs RB Doug Martin to his lowest yards per carry (2.4) of the season and the longest run the Falcons conceded was 10 yards. No one has to remind the Atlanta defenders of Saints’ RB Chris Ivory’s 56-yard touchdown run, where he broke four tackles en route to the end zone. Weatherspoon could be huge in containing their rush attack. 

Connections: Saints LB Lofton was drafted by the Falcons in 2008 but chose to leave Atlanta this past offseason in search of “true fans” and a team with a chance at a Super Bowl. 

Record watch: Gonzalez passed James Lofton for seventh on the NFL’s all-time receiving yards list last Sunday. Gonzalez had 62 yards last week to increase his career total to 14,050. Former Colts WR Marvin Harrison is next on the list with 14,580.     

Stat you should know: The Falcons were plus-10 in turnover margin throughout the first three weeks of the season. Since then, Atlanta is minus-seven in turnover margin and hasn’t had a positive turnover margin once. 

Second stat you should know: Turner’s 3-yard touchdown run last weekend gave him six for the season and 57 for his career, tying him with former wideout Terance Mathis for most all-time in Falcons history. 

Looking ahead: The Falcons travel to Carolina on Sunday, Dec. 9. 

Prediction: Falcons 34, Saints 28

For more Falcons coverage, follow Mike Singer @CBSFalcons.