ATLANTA – Patrick Peterson says the Atlanta Falcons have more talent than their poor record shows.
Peterson also recognizes the Falcons still have much on the line, just like his Arizona Cardinals.
The Falcons, representing the much-ridiculed NFC South, will play the Cardinals, leading the far stronger NFC West, in an unlikely pairing of first-place teams on Sunday.
Atlanta (4-7) is 0-7 against teams outside the South, but beating division opponents has been enough to keep the Falcons on top. Arizona (9-2) lost to Seattle last week, ending the Cardinals' six-game winning streak. The Seahawks (8-4) kept the heat on Arizona by beating San Francisco 19-3 on Thursday.
The Falcons had a modest two-game winning streak end with last week's last-minute loss to Cleveland. Peterson, the star cornerback who may be matched against Atlanta wide receiver Julio Jones, says the standings should keep the Falcons motivated.
"They're going to come out on fire," Peterson said. "They're playing at home. They're still in first place, despite the record. These guys still have a lot to play for.
"You know, Atlanta has a ton of talent. The talent is not an issue. It's just these guys have been catching some tough breaks lately. They were up on Detroit 21-0 in London. They were up on Cleveland with 44 seconds to go. They just haven't been able to finish out games. The team has the talent and has the pedigree of being a much better team."
Clock management issues in the losses to the Lions and Browns have left Falcons coach Mike Smith in trouble. Smith said Monday he made mistakes in the final minute against the Browns.
"I didn't do my job as the head football coach and put our guys in the best position that they possibly could be in that situation, and it's my responsibility as a head coach to make sure that that happens," Smith said.
Smith and the Falcons need a big win to brighten the dour outlook on the disappointing season.
"Moving forward, we've got everything we want right in front of us," said quarterback Matt Ryan. "Obviously, we can't change the previous 11 games and what we've done up to this point. I just hope we can control what we do moving forward."
Here are some things to watch as the Falcons, looking for their first home win since Sept. 18 against Tampa Bay, face the Cardinals:
OPENING FOR CARDINALS' OFFENSE: Arizona has not scored a touchdown in seven quarters. The Falcons' defense, last in the league overall and against the pass, could be just what quarterback Drew Stanton needs to recharge the offense. A strong showing by Stanton would reassure fans he can be a capable replacement for Carson Palmer (knee).
CLEAN PLAY FROM RYAN: Arizona is the only team with more than three interceptions against Ryan. Remarkably, the Falcons overcame Ryan's career-high five interceptions and no touchdowns to beat the Cardinals in Atlanta two years ago. Ryan added four picks with a touchdown in last year's 27-13 loss at Arizona.
BIG NAMES ON INJURY LIST: Cardinals running back Andre Ellington (hip, toe) returned for limited participation in practice this week. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald worked on the side and said he's "highly likely" to play against the Falcons. Fitzgerald sprained his left knee in a win over Detroit and then missed last week's loss at Seattle, snapping his streak of 110 consecutive games played.
FALCONS' RECEIVERS HURTING: An ankle injury kept Falcons receiver Roddy White out of some practices this week. The Falcons need White, who has a team-leading five TD catches, as a strong complement to Jones. Atlanta's No. 3 receiver, Harry Douglas, has been limited with a foot injury after missing Wednesday's practice.
ROAD PROVEN: In past years, the Georgia Dome has been a big advantage for the Falcons. The Cardinals shouldn't be too bothered by the crowd noise after already taking road wins over the Giants, Raiders and Cowboys.
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