Friday, 17 December 2010 09:52
New Orleans Saints: Baltimore Ravens, Atlanta Falcons, Vilma, Ray Rice, Ray Lewis
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Ed Staton, Bayoubuzz SportsSummary: New Orleans Saints road to playoff takes visit to Baltimore to play the Ravens followed by a Monday Night Football match against the  rival, Atlanta Falcons.  But, before reaching Atlanta, the Saints face the Ravens, Ray Rice, Ray Lewis and  gang who have their own winning agendas.

Jon Vilma talks about the matchups

The streaking Saints are aware that the road to the Super Bowl will probably go through the Georgia Dome and not in Superdome, but New Orleans thinks it can win anyway.

"Two Dat!"

The Saints are going after their seventh straight win against the Ravens on Sunday at noon with the temperature projected to be in the 30s with a chance of snow and wind.

"We're not even worried about that," said Saints middle linebacker Jon Vilma. "We just keep on focusing on winning games each week and keep the momentum going just to get us to the playoffs. We'll worry about the rest later."

Vilma calls the defensive signals and will be facing running back Ray Rice. "Rice is dynamic and he's good in the running game and passing game as well," said Vilma. "I know he's in the top two or three in rushing yards, but he's up there in receiving yards as well.

"That poses a big challenge for myself, Scot Shanle, Danny Clark, whoever's in the area where you feel like you stop the run, but the takes a checkdown and catches a screen. He can take that the distance as well."

Vilma will be watching Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis, a future Pro Football Hall of Famer. Both are out of the University of Miami. Vilma was asked if there was a Miami pride at linebacker?

"No pride," said Vilma. "No one wants to win a game as bad as I do. It starts with a solid nose. Then it goes back to the strong safety who can make plays on the ball. Both defenses have that. They have Halot Ngata, who is a tremendous athlete and of course you have Ray Lewis and then Ed Reed in the back end.

"We have Remi Ayodele who's doing a great job for us, myself. Roman Harper intercepted a Rams pass last week, but ran out of gas before he crossed the goal line.

Somebody asked Vilma if he saw the two empty gas cans in Roman's locker?

"I didn't see it until now," said Vilma. "The worst part is it didn't count and he won't be able to live it down."

"How we're playing now, it doesn't matter who we're playing or where we're playing," said safety Darren Shaper, who now plays in the nickel coverages while Malcolm Jenkins plays like  Pro Bowler in his old free safety spot. Jenkins has been named the NFC player of the week two of the past three weeks.

With a solid running game back in place, the Saints passing game can return to the high-percentage attack that befuddles defensive coordinators across the league. Tight end Jeremy Shockey has returned and his presence in the middle of the field is vital to exploiting some of the umbrella coverage teams are using to limit the deep balls on the outside. He has been a Drew Brees safety net since his arrival and his return adds another dimension to the passing attack.

The Saints plays at Atlanta eight days after this game. With wins on Sunday and next Monday night, the Saints would have more ammunition for a playoff run on the road. With loses, they might not even make the postseason in the top-heavy NFC, where seven teams have eight or more wins.

Prediction: The Saints will win this one straight up despite unfavorable playing conditions.

Other fearless NFL picks: Chiefs +1 1/2 over Rams;Texans+1 1/2 over Titans; Jaguars +5 over Colts;  Panthers -2 1/2 over
Cardinals; Browns +1 1/2 over Bengals; Bills +5 1/1 over Fins; Giants -3 over Eagles; Cowboys-6 over Redskins (best bet); Buccaneers -5 1/1 over Lions; Falcons -6 over Seahawks (blowout); Steelers -6 over Jets; Raiders -6 1/2 over Broncos (lock); Patriots -6 1/2 over Packers; and Bears -3 over Vikings (lock);

Here is the Saints schedule and that of Atlanta:

New Orleans Saints Football Schedule

New Orleans Saints at Baltimore Ravens Dec. 19

New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons Dec. 27

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints January 2

Atlanta Falcons Football Schedule

Atlanta Falcons at Seattle Seahawks Dec. 19

New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons Dec. 27

Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons January 2

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Ed Staton

Ed Staton is a former sports writer for the Times Picayune and New Orleans States Item.  He also served as the New Orleans Saints Information Director.  He has won 43 media awards in writing, design and photography.  


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