The biggest game of the Saints' season is all but an elimination game. With a loss on Sunday to the Falcons in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the Saints would be 3-6 (2-4 in the NFC) and the playoff door would be all but closed.
But at 4-5, the Saints would be in the middle of a wildcard hunt and 2-1 in their own division.
The Saints will have to win against the undefeated Falcons on Sunday without offensive weapon Darren Sproles (broken hand) or starting right tackle Zach Strief (groin). Neither were able to practice all week.
Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram, Chris Ivory and Travares Cadet will rotate at runningback again, just like they did in the Saints' Monday night romp against the Eagles.
The situation is more grim at right tackle. Third year Charles Brown will start for Strief, a 2010 second round draft who has not shown the promise he came with to New Orleans. Brown played most of the second half against the Eagles and made five starts for Strief last season due to injury. Brown has also been used as the sixth lineman in heavy formations, a role that Strief filled in past seasons as a backup to retired RT Jon Stinchcomb.
But the Saints' blocking schemes belie a lack of trust in the former USC tight end. The Saints will aide Brown with tight ends and blocking backs, something that will be more necessary than ever with versatile Falcons DE John Abraham surely to target the youngster.
DE Junior Galette, who missed most of the Eagles game after suffering an ankle injury, and special teams gunner and WR Courtney Roby will miss the game with a shoulder injury. Neither were able to practice this week.
Good news for the beleaguered Saints defense is that starting SLB David Hawthorne will return to the lineup after missing the past five games with a hamstring injury. Hawthorne was able to participate in practice all week.