The New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons are at opposite ends of the NFC South.
They also are heading in opposite directions as the Saints prepare to host the 100th regular-season meeting between the long-time division rivals on Sunday afternoon.
New Orleans is 7-1 after winning its past six games, and Atlanta -- which leads the series 52-48 (including 1-0 in the postseason) -- is 1-7 after losing its past six games.
Both teams had a bye last week. The Saints took the week off. The Falcons shuffled responsibilities among three assistant coaches and signed a new kicker and a new punter.
But the Saints know better than to take a division rival lightly, especially during what defensive end Cameron Jordan playfully called "National Hate Week."
"Everybody knows it's coming, and yet it brings a new sense of rivalry every year," Jordan said. "It's the most important game because it's the next game, but it's really because it's Atlanta."
New Orleans has a two-game lead over second-place Carolina in the division, and it edged in front of Green Bay for second place in the NFC when the Packers lost to the Chargers while the Saints were idle.
Atlanta, meanwhile, is just trying to find a way to earn its first win since topping Philadelphia in Week 2.
"I think it's most important not to pay attention to the record," Saints tackle Terron Armstead said. "Understand that it's a team that we play twice a year and have great battles against -- an extremely talented team. We cannot look at the record at all. Our record either."
New Orleans was 5-0 without quarterback Drew Brees before he returned from thumb surgery to complete 34 of 43 attempts for 373 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-9 victory against Arizona in the last game before the bye.
The Saints hope the time off will help running back Alvin Kamara and tight end Jared Cook to return from two-game absences caused by ankle injuries. Both were back at practice Wednesday, with Kamara limited and Cook a full participant.
The Falcons expect the return of their quarterback, as Matt Ryan is likely to start after a one-game absence precipitated by a high ankle sprain. He practiced Wednesday on a limited basis. Ryan's absence from a 27-20 home loss to Seattle before the bye ended a streak of 154 consecutive regular-season starts.
Atlanta, though, is hoping to find better balance, averaging just 68.5 rushing yards per game, 29th in the NFL.
"They're throwing the ball more," Saints coach Sean Payton said of the Falcons. "Sometimes that's a product or byproduct of being behind in games. They're outstanding in a lot of the skill areas. I think that they've been in some hard-fought games, and they've had some injuries."
The Falcons have been outscored 144-50 in the first half, and the defense has been among the worst in the NFL in big plays and touchdown passes allowed.
"Really for us, this is our new season," Atlanta coach Dan Quinn said. "I told everybody if we have a chance to elevate in every space that we do (things), we're going to try for it -- players, coaches, the whole thing.
"It's going to take a lot of energy and discipline to do that, but we've got plenty to work on. This Sunday, we are looking to how we want to play. We are going to focus on that as much as we can. Let's get it right."
Also back from injury for Atlanta should be cornerback Desmond Trufant, who hasn't played since Week 5 because of a toe issue.
--Field Level Media