If the Atlanta Falcons hope to repeat as NFC South champions, they’re going to have to beat the New Orleans Saints on “Thursday Night Football.” The team that nearly won the Super Bowl a year ago hosts their division rivals in the first game of Week 14, looking to get back in the playoff picture.

The first-place Saints have a two-game lead over the Falcons, who currently hold the No.7 seed in the conference. That’s why New Orleans was a road favorite for most of the week, though the latest betting odds at OddsShark have Atlanta favored by a point.

Even though Atlanta’s 7-5 record has them sitting a game behind both the Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers in the wild-card race, the Falcons still control their own destiny. Thursday night’s game is one of two matchups Atlanta has remaining with New Orleans. Atlanta closes out the regular season at home against Carolina in a game that could very well determine a playoff berth.

There have been times when Atlanta has closely resembled the 2016 Falcons, who won the NFC behind MVP Matt Ryan. The defending conference champs started the season 3-0 with two road wins and a comfortable victory at home against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. Before losing to the now-No.1 seed Minnesota Vikings in Week 13, Atlanta had won three straight games, scoring at least 27 points in each contest.

Ryan completed over 70 percent of his passes in each of the Falcons’ last three wins, throwing five touchdown passes and one interception. The quarterback traditionally puts up big numbers against New Orleans with a career 99.2 passer rating, 30 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Ryan threw for six scores and no picks as the Falcons totaled 83 points against the Saints in two wins last season.

New Orleans’ defense, however, has been much improved in 2017. The Saints are 12th in both points and yards allowed, and much of the credit goes to an improved secondary. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore might be the Defensive Rookie of the Year, and he’s expected to play after missing the last two games with an ankle injury.

If Atlanta is going to win and keep their divisional hopes alive, it won't be in a defensive battle. There’s a reason the game’s over/under of 51.5 is the highest on the entire Week 14 schedule. New Orleans is second in total offense only to the New England Patriots, and they’ve scored at least 30 points in three of their last four games. The Saints haven’t been held to fewer than 20 points since the season opener.

Drew Brees is having his typical season, ranking first in completion percentage and third in both passing yards and passer rating. It’s New Orleans’ rushing attack that’s been the difference in 2017 with Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram giving the Saints the NFL’s best two-man backfield.

Ingram is fourth in the league with 922 yards on the ground, and Kamara has performed like an MVP candidate since the team traded Adrian Peterson. Averaging an incredible 7.0 yards per carry on the season, the rookie is averaging 144 yards from scrimmage over the last five games with eight touchdowns. Kamara leads the NFL by a wide margin with 41 missed tackles since Week 5, according to Pro Football Focus.

Will the Falcons be able to keep up Thursday night?

Atlanta has appeared to have righted the ship offensively since they dropped to 3-3 following their hot start to the year. With the likes of Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, the Falcons have one of the best groups of playmakers in football.

New Orleans suffered their first loss since Week 2 when they visited the Los Angeles Rams in Week 12. Don’t be surprised if the Saints come up short against another playoff contender on the road.

Prediction: Atlanta over New Orleans, 30-24