Falcons don’t plan to sit players in finale

Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn greets his players on the sidelines in the second half of an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Dec. 24, 2016. The Falcons won 33-16. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

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Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn greets his players on the sidelines in the second half of an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Dec. 24, 2016. The Falcons won 33-16. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

Don’t even ask. Falcons coach Dan Quinn could not bring himself to consider the notion of sitting players for the regular-season finale.

The Falcons (10-5) close out the regular-season against New Orleans (7-8) Sunday at the Georgia Dome. With the NFC South title wrapped up, the Falcons are still gunning for the No. 2 seed and a bye in the wild-card round of the NFC playoffs.

“I know that everybody wants to talk about more and what’s out there, but for us and our mindset is that it goes right back to New Orleans,” Quinn said on Monday. “That’s where our focus has turned.”

The Falcons are hoping to get tight end Austin Hooper (knee) and linebacker De’Vondre Campbell (concussion) back from injury. Left guard Andy Levitre, who didn’t finish the Carolina game with a hip injury, is also expected back.

“Health-wise, we came through the (Carolina) game great,” Quinn said. “We are hopeful with Hooper and Campbell. We’ll see where their process goes through the week, knowing that we’ll be limited heading into the game.”

All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones (sprained toe) and cornerback Jalen Collins (knee) returned from injury against the Panthers.

“It’s all out there for us,” Quinn said. “We are going to battle for it in every way that we can against New Orleans. We know there is an opportunity for us there and we are going to go for it in the biggest way that we can.”

The Falcons and the Detroit Lions could both finish 11-5, but the Lions would need to defeat Dallas on Monday night and Green Bay on Sunday.

Should both teams finish 11-5, the Falcons and Lions would both be champions of their respective divisions with a 9-3 NFC record, 4-1 record vs. common opponents and no head-to-head meetings. Under that scenario, the fourth tiebreaker for seeding teams from different divisions applies: strength of victory.

The Falcons have a mathematical edge there, but there are several variables.

What the Falcons can control is beating the Saints. Quarterback Matt Ryan, winding up a most valuable player-worthy season, will keep the team focused with his approach.

Among quarterbacks who average 9-plus yards per passing attempt, Ryan’s 69.5 seasonal completion percentage is third all-time behind Slingin’ Sammy Baugh (1945) and Joe Montana (1989).

“Matt has had a terrific year,” Quinn said.

Ryan has completed 346 of 498 passes for 4,613 yards, 34 touchdowns and seven interceptions. His passer rating of 115.5 leads the league.

“Just how many different guys that get involved, I think (last Saturday) was another day where nine of 10 different guys got involved,” Quinn said. “We all talk about Julio, because he’s such an important part of it. But no one is excited for as many teammates to get involved as Julio.”

Ryan has thrown touchdown passes to 13 players this season, the most in a single season in NFL history. Backup tight ends Joshua Perkins and D.J. Tialavea both caught career-first touchdown passes against the Panthers.

“I think (Ryan) deserves the MVP and if he doesn’t get it, he’s my MVP,” running back Devonta Freeman said. “I’m just excited that (things) are coming together. I’m just excited for the whole offense.”

The Falcons intend to unleash Freeman and Tevin Coleman against the Saints. The duo had more than 200 total yards in the past two games.

“Man, it’s exciting that they are on your side,” left tackle Jake Matthews said. “We have so many playmakers on offense. If we give them opportunities, they are going to slash defenses and make plays.”

The Falcons, who were swept by the Saints last season, defeated them 45-32 on Sept. 26. Freeman believes he and Coleman can be a factor in the attack against the Saints.

“We understand and know that when we are receivers and have one-on-ones that we can (make plays),” Freeman said. “We are aggressive with that and we expect to get the ball.”

Matthews said the Falcons have expectations: “We can get better, finish out the season strong and go from there.”