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Monday Night Football Gambling

2006 Monday Night Football
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By Scott Garbarini, NFL Contributing Editor

After more than a year's worth of anguish and uncertainty, the New Orleans Saints will finally play a true home game when the Louisiana Superdome re-opens its doors

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monday night football gambling - Pittsburgh (-3) at jacksonville 7:00 PM

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Pittsburgh At Jacksonville
September 25th, 2006 - The Superdome (New Orleans)
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Monday night for a highly-anticipated showdown with the Atlanta Falcons.

The Saints haven't played a regular-season contest in New Orleans since defeating Atlanta on December 26, 2004. Eight months later, Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast region, leaving a city in near ruin and the future of the Saints' franchise in an extended state of limbo.

The Superdome also felt the wrath of Katrina's devastating power, but nearly $200 million worth of renovations since the storm have made the stadium fit to host an NFL game, which will seem more like a gala event than a run-of-the- mill Week 3 intradivisional contest.

It's an event so big that the NFL hired music mega-stars U2 and Green Day to perform in a lavish pregame ceremony, and which even Al-Jazeera has requested media credentials for. A pair of Bushes will also be on hand, although the President of the United States may receive second-billing to the New Orleans rookie running back that will make his much-ballyhooed debut in the Big Easy.

Nearly lost in all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the NFL's return to New Orleans is the game itself, which features two unbeaten teams that will battle for early front-runner status in the NFC's South division. The Saints have an opportunity to match their entire win total from 2005's forgettable campaign, although Atlanta should prove to be a much sterner test than New Orleans' road victories over creampuffs Cleveland and Green Bay. The Falcons have already knocked off a pair of 2005 playoff participants in Carolina and Tampa Bay during their flying start, and is starting to resemble the team which was one win shy of reaching the Super Bowl two seasons ago.

Atlanta's only black mark in its two impressive wins has been its shabby kicking game, where Michael Koenen misfired on all four of his field goal tries in last week's 14-3 triumph over Tampa Bay. As a result, the Falcons went out and signed the 46-year-old Morten Andersen, who provides another intriguing subplot to an already interesting matchup. Andersen, the second- leading scorer in NFL annals, spent the first 13 of his nearly two-dozen pro seasons with the Saints (1982-94) before bringing his deadly left foot to Atlanta for six years. The eight-time Pro Bowl honoree is the all-time leading scorer in the history of both teams.


Atlanta leads the all-time regular season series with New Orleans, 43-30, including a sweep of their longtime division rival last season. The Falcons were 34-31 winners in San Antonio in Week 6 of the 2005 campaign, and claimed a 36-17 decision at the Georgia Dome in Week 14. The Saints have won the last two meetings played between the teams at the Superdome, winning 26-13 in 2004 and 23-20 during the 2003 season. The Falcons' most recent win in the Big Easy was a 37-35 nail-biter in 2002.

In addition to the regular season series, the teams have faced off once in the postseason, with Atlanta winning a 27-20 road affair in a 1991 NFC First-Round Playoff.

Atlanta's Jim Mora is 3-1 against the team his father coached from 1986 to 1996, and the team for which he himself served as an assistant from 1992 to 1996. New Orleans' Sean Payton will be facing both Mora and the Falcons for the first time as a head coach.


Atlanta possesses the most lethal ground attack in the league, and the Falcons put their rushing prowess on display with an overpowering performance against a well-regarded Tampa Bay defense last week. The team ran offensive coordinator Greg Knapp's zone-block scheme to perfection, resulting in a franchise-record 306 rushing yards and an impressive average of seven yards per carry. New Orleans native Warrick Dunn led the way with 134 yards on 21 attempts and has racked up a league-best 266 yards while averaging 5.3 per pop over the first two weeks. It helps when your quarterback can run as well, and no signal-caller is more dangerous with his legs than Michael Vick. The dynamic former No. 1 overall pick burned the Buccaneers' aging defense with 127 rushing yards and a touchdown, the sixth time he has eclipsed the century mark in his career. Rookie burner Jerious Norwood (19 carries, 111 yards) has done an excellent job of spelling Dunn when called upon.

The Falcons will go up against a revamped New Orleans front seven which has acquitted itself surprisingly well against the run in the early going. The Saints have yielded an average of just 74 yards per game on the ground through the opening two weeks, nearly half of the 134.1 per game they surrendered last year. An influx of rejects from a pair of NFC East teams appears to have stabilized the unit. Former Dallas linebackers Scott Fujita (14 tackles, 1 INT) and Scott Shanle (13 tackles) lead the team in tackles, while two ex- Eagles, defensive tackle Hollis Thomas (8 tackles, 0.5 sacks) and middle linebacker Mark Simoneau (6 tackles), have also performed well so far. Rookie strong safety Roman Harper (12 tackles, 1 sack) has had his lapses in coverage, but the second-round draft choice has shown he can be a future force versus the run.

Atlanta's punishing run game has also benefited Vick (232 passing yards, 3 TD, 1 INT), whose accuracy as a passer and grasp of the west coast offense have often come into question. He hasn't had to throw much over the first two games, but the fact that he's turned the ball over just once this season may be an indication that Vick's maturity and decision making have improved. Although tight end Alge Crumpler (4 receptions, 49 yards, 1 TD) is off to a slow start after missing most of the preseason following surgeries to his shoulder and knee, he remains the Falcons' biggest threat in the passing attack. Wideout Michael Jenkins (5 receptions, 91 yards, 1 TD) is starting to prove himself worthy of the No. 1 pick Atlanta used to draft him in 2004, but the team is still searching for a complement on the other side. Second-year man Roddy White (2 receptions, 23 yards), also a former first-rounder, hasn't yet distinguished himself and may not even play Monday because of an injured shoulder, while Ashley Lelie (4 receptions, 27 yards) is still learning the ropes after being acquired from Denver late in the preseason.

While the Falcons are far from overwhelming through the air, New Orleans doesn't wow anybody in the category of pass defense, either. The Saints gave up chunks of yards (340 of them, to be exact) to Brett Favre in their 34-27 win over the Pack in Week 2, with Green Bay receivers Donald Driver (8 receptions, 153 yards) and Greg Jennings (6 receptions, 67 yards, 1 TD) each putting up big numbers as well. New Orleans also let up a 74-yard touchdown connection between Cleveland's Charlie Frye and Braylon Edwards on their first play of the season, but the score was nullified by a holding call on the Browns. The emerging star of the unit is second-year free safety Josh Bullocks (8 tackles, 1 INT), who is coming off a good rookie season and preserved the Week 1 win over Cleveland with a late interception. New Orleans does have the ability to pressure Vick with Will Smith (8 tackles, 2 sacks), who is rounding into one of the league's best defensive ends, and tackle Brian Young, who recorded 2 1/2 sacks in the opener. Young, however, is listed as questionable due to an injured shoulder.


The strength of the new-look Saints resides on the offensive side of the ball, as Payton is well-regarded around NFL circles as a play-caller and the club brought in a couple of major additions in former San Diego quarterback Drew Brees and electrifying rookie running back Reggie Bush during the offseason. The results have been quite positive so far, as New Orleans has put up 53 points and is averaging over 350 yards on offense. Brees (523 passing yards, 3 TD, 2 INT) put to rest the concerns over his late-season shoulder injury when he torched Green Bay's leaky secondary for 353 yards and a pair of scores while completing 26-of-41 passes last week. Veteran receiver Joe Horn (7 receptions, 113 yards) also appears to have rebounded strongly from an injury- plagued season, while rookie Marques Colston (8 catches, 107 yards, 2 TD) is looking like the steal of last April's draft. A seventh-round choice out of Hofstra, the 6-4, 230-pound Colston is a big, physical target who has already been a factor in the red zone. Bush has emerged as a real weapon in the passing game as well, snaring a team-best 15 catches for 120 yards.

Atlanta allowed 313 yards through the air in last week's victory, but minimized the damage by picking off Tampa's Chris Simms three times and bearing down in the red zone. The Falcons were hurt by a lack of pass rush in that game, but that concern could be alleviated if disruptive end John Abraham makes it back in the lineup. The three-time Pro Bowl selection had a monster outing in his Atlanta debut in Week 1, recording six tackles, two sacks and a pair of forced fumbles against Carolina to earn NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors. Abraham strained his groin late in the game, however, missed last week's contest, and is questionable for Monday. At full strength, Abraham, fellow end Patrick Kerney (who is also banged up) and Pro Bowl tackle Rod Coleman (40 tackles, 10.5 sacks in '05) are a devastating trio that could make life miserable for New Orleans' makeshift offensive line, which surrendered four sacks to the Packers. The secondary also boasts a premier cornerback in DeAngelo Hall, who intercepted Simms twice last week. Hall's counterpart, the smallish Jason Webster, has also grabbed two picks already this season.

Bush (21 carries, 72 rushing yards) hasn't been as lethal running the football as he has been catching it, but a return to form by three-time 1,000-yard rusher Deuce McAllister (127 rushing yards, 2 TD) has alleviated the reigning Heisman Trophy winner's growing pains in that area. McAllister has come back strong from the torn ACL which cut short his 2005 season, running for 90 yards in the season-opener and sealing the win over Green Bay with a 23-yard touchdown burst in the fourth quarter. The veteran's power and Bush's speed and elusiveness present a formidable challenge for any defense.

Stopping any back was a challenge for the Falcons in 2005, as the team ranked 27th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed (128.9 ypg) last season. It's been a different story for Atlanta this year. The Falcons have given up a mere 52.5 yards on the ground through the first two weeks, the third-lowest mark in the league, and made Tampa's Cadillac Williams (15 carries, 37 yards) a non-factor last Sunday. The free-agent signing of massive defensive tackle Grady Jackson has made a significant difference, allowing standout middle linebacker Keith Brooking (15 tackles) the freedom to roam and make plays. Another key offseason acquisition was that of strong safety Lawyer Milloy (8 tackles), who has been one of the NFL's best run-stopping safeties ever since he came into the league a decade ago.


The Saints have been the feel-good story of the season so far, but don't expect a Hollywood ending to this script. New Orleans doesn't have the personnel to slow down Atlanta's relentless ground attack, which has put up huge yardage numbers against two defenses that are superior to the Saints' stop unit. Still, New Orleans will be fired up in its rare opportunity on the national stage and has the offensive weapons to make this one interesting. But it's age over beauty, as an Andersen field goal proves to be the difference in the end.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Falcons 27, Saints 24

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