Their stadiums lie east of the Mississippi, but they compete in the NFC West, so maybe the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints are destined to forever be on the wrong side of things. Certainly they have found themselves on the wrong side of more outcomes than any of the other franchises in the Super Bowl era. Since Atlanta entered the NFL in 1966 and New Orleans followed a year later, they have lost 279 and 262 games, respectively. The next closest loser is the New York Jets, with 256 defeats since '66.
This Sunday, when these two meet in Atlanta for the 55th time (the Falcons hold a 30-24 edge in the series), they will have more in common than their bottom-of-the-barrel records—New Orleans is 2-8, Atlanta 1-9. Over the past 30 years, there have been other pitiable parallels between the two teams. Consider:
?Inaugural game: Both lost at home to the Los Angeles Rams. Atlanta fell 19-14 on Sept. 11, 1966, while New Orleans went down 27-13 on Sept. 17, 1967.
?First-year records: 3-11.
?Division championships: One apiece. Atlanta won the NFC West in 1980, New Orleans in '91. Both were eliminated from the playoffs in the first round.
?Domes: Despite the South's clement fall weather, the Falcons play in the Georgia Dome and the Saints in the Superdome.
?Wacky ex-Oilers coaches: The Saints hired O.A. (Bum) Phillips in 1981 after Houston had fired him the year before. The Falcons hired former Oilers coach Jerry Glanville in 1990. Both men lasted four full seasons. (Phillips was succeeded by his son, Wade, in the fifth.)
? Tampa Bay: The Buccaneers are the only opponent against whom both Atlanta (8-6) and New Orleans (12-4) have winning records.
?Prime-time sideline explosions: Atlanta suspended quarterback Jeff George for four games after he mouthed off to coach June Jones during a Sunday-night home loss to the Eagles in Week 4. (He has since been released.) New Orleans suspended defensive end Renaldo Turnbull for one week after he stormed off to the locker room during a Sunday-night home loss to the 49ers in Week 10.
? Bobby Hebert: The 36-year-old quarterback who succeeded George in Atlanta played his first seven NFL seasons in the Big Easy. Though he is 1-6 as a starter with the Falcons, his 49-26 record with New Orleans is a franchise record for a quarterback.