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December 03, 1992|Associated Press

It's the team New Orleans loves to hate: the Atlanta Falcons, who knocked the Saints out of the NFL playoffs with a 27-20 victory in a first-round playoff game last season.

But enmity began long before that.

"Any time these two teams line up it's a grudge match," Saint linebacker Rickey Jackson said. "We don't have any trouble getting ready for them. They don't have any trouble getting ready for us."

Five of the last six games between the teams have been decided by a touchdown or less--including a 23-20 Atlanta victory in overtime last season. Each side has three victories in those six games.

A victory tonight would clinch a playoff spot for the third consecutive year for the Saints (9-3), who beat the Falcons, 10-7, in their first meeting.

The Denver Broncos might alternate John Elway's two backups on a play-by-play basis against Dallas if his shoulder has not healed enough to permit him to play, Coach Dan Reeves said.

Elway, who sat out Denver's two recent losses to the Raiders and Seattle Seahawks because of a bruised shoulder, is listed as doubtful for Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys (10-2) at Mile High Stadium.

His injury forced the Broncos (7-5) to start rookie Tommy Maddox in both games, but he has been largely ineffective.

Reeves said both Maddox and Shawn Moore probably will play against Dallas if Elway is unable to play and held out an option of alternating Moore and Maddox every play, with the coaching staff sending in every play with a fresh quarterback.

The NFL has moved the deadline for underclassmen to apply for next year's draft up to Jan. 6, three weeks earlier than a year ago.

League spokesman Joe Browne also suggested that if running back Marshall Faulk or any two-year player tries to make himself eligible for the draft, the NFL is prepared to go to court to keep him out.

The earlier date for declaration by underclassmen--it was Feb. 1 last season and in late March in the previous two years--was recommended by a committee headed by Sam Jankovich, chief executive officer of the New England Patriots and former athletic director at the University of Miami. The committee has been meeting with college officials to try to iron out their objections to the draft.

Embattled New York Giant Coach Ray Handley made promised lineup changes, demoting Pro Bowl linemen Bart Oates, who has a 127-game starting streak, and William Roberts. . . . Kelly Stouffer lost his starting quarterback job with the Seattle Seahawks and will be replaced by Stan Gelbaugh against Pittsburgh. . . . Chicago Bear Coach Mike Ditka said that Peter Tom Willis will start ahead of Jim Harbaugh at quarterback Monday night at Houston.

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