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Atlanta Falcons in great playoff shape after latest win

MVP candidate Matt Ryan struggled. The running game bogged down after the first quarter. And yet the Atlanta Falcons still pulled off their biggest win of the season Thursday night in the Georgia Dome, 23-13 over the New Orleans Saints.

This Falcons team doesn't always pass the eye test. They often seem to be outplayed -- like against the Arizona Cardinals and Oakland Raiders -- yet find a way to win. They win games in the final seconds, like against the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And they beat their biggest division rivals this week in a sloppy, often inexplicable affair.

This is just how the Falcons are going to be. Get used to it, because they're headed for the No. 1 playoff seed in the NFC, and we're going to be talking a lot about them. They officially will clinch the NFC South if the Buccaneers lose or tie Sunday against the Houston Texans.

On Thursday night, the Falcons showed they can win games with their defense. On a night when Ryan threw for just 165 yards and had plenty of wayward passes, the Falcons picked off Drew Brees five times. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan's unit gave up a lot of yards but buckled down in the red zone. The Falcons knocked down 12 passes with swarming pass coverage. They got a huge sack from John Abraham in the fourth quarter when the Saints were driving, only down by seven points. Yes, the Falcons got their share of luck.

At 11-1, the Falcons clearly aren't a perfect team. But they do have a perfect record at home. After this win over their most hated rivals, they should be playing at home through the NFC playoffs. That matters a lot more than any eye test.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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