Any life long New Orleans Saints fans can tell you, in their book,  the most hated team in the NFL will always be the Atlanta Falcons. The two franchises have played one another 82 times, came into the league one year apart from each other, have been in the same division (NFC West until 2001, NFC South 2002-present), and have a long history of memorable matchups. While players and coaches come and go, the fans are the reasons this rancorous rivalry will never die. As Nakia Hogan of the Times Picayune points out, coaches and players  know about the rivalry from the die hard fanbase.

"I've heard about it from fans," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "I feel it from the fans (when they say) we have to beat Atlanta, so it sounds like there's a longstanding history of hatred and animosity."

Atlanta Coach Mike Smith agreed.

"I found out very quickly when I arrived here in Atlanta that the biggest rivalry is the New Orleans Saints," Smith said. "I guess it goes way back, because when both teams came into the league it was basically at the same time or within a year or two.

"So, regardless of what the ramifications are, it's a big game. I know the fans in Atlanta when we go to New Orleans, there's a contingent of fans that come and we'll expect the same thing here. It has been that way every time that we've played, and I think that we've had very competitive games the three years that we've been here."

Those "ramifications" are at an all-time high now that the Saints and Falcons are among the elite teams in the NFC.

Both long-time bottom feeders with just 16 playoff appearances between them, the Falcons and Saints rivalry has suddenly become more intense and important than ever.

When the Saints and Falcons meet on Monday night in the Georgia Dome, the defending Super Bowl champion Saints (10-4) will be playing to keep their NFC title hopes alive, while the Falcons (12-2) will be seeking to win the division outright and perhaps lock up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

 Games of such significance haven't happened often in this rivalry because both teams have seldom been good during the same season.

In fact just once since the teams began playing in 1967 have both advanced to the postseason in the same year (1991). And Monday's game will mark only the fourth time the two teams have compiled winning records in the same season (1991, 2002, 2009, 2010).

"The fact that we are both doing well more people are interested in it," Saints defensive end Will Smith said. "More people are actually starting to understand the rivalry a little bit more."

Read the rest of Hogan's article, including the rivalry history by clicking here: http://www.nola.com/saints/index.ssf/2010/12/new_orleans_saints-atlanta_fal.html

As of today, there's only one thing Saints and Falcons fans may agree on. Monday night can't get here soon enough.