Thursday, December 17, 2009

Week 15 Preview: 13 and 0 and in a Must-Win

Week 15 Preview: 13 and 0 and in a Must-Win

The schizo New Orleans Saints have done two things consistently this season: 1) win and 2) win comfortably at home. Which is why their match-up with the Dallas Cowboys is that much more important.

With the Minnesota Vikings only 1.5 games behind the Saints (when factoring in the purple warriors’ tie-breaker advantage), the Black and Gold can ill afford to start a losing streak, even a brief one.

If the Saints win two games, if Minnesota loses two games or if the Saints win one and the Vikings lose one, the Saints’ only road game in post-season would be in south Florida.

After Dallas, the Saints face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at home and then close out the season in the aftenoon at Carolina, which could very well be “flexed” into a Sunday night game if New Orleans goes into the regular season finale unbeaten.

The Vikings face a battered Panthers squad in Charlotte, a visit to Soldier Field to take on the hapless Chicago Bears and then hosting the New York Giants, a team that is fighting for its playoff life after losing to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night. Considering the state of their opposition, the Vikings are poised to win out.

For what it’s worth, Saints fans should cheer for the Giants for the remainder of the regular season as a motivated Giants team could be the difference between the NFC Championship being played in the Superdome or in the Metrodome.

Dallas enters the Saturday night game with an offense that ranks 13th in points (22.98 average per game), 3rd in yards (391.1 per game) and 7th (128.5 average) on the ground and 6th (262.5 average) in the air.

In short, Dallas, regardless of their problems in December, has a potent offense that is clearly superior to those of the lesser teams the Saints struggled to defeat over the past few weeks.

Defensively, the Cowboys have allowed the 6th least points (17.9 average), the 8th least rushing yards (100.2 average) but rank 21st against the pass (229.2 average). Dallas is tied for 12th in sacks with 30.

I’m not going to bother delving into the numbers for the Saints. They have the top-rated offense that has had trouble running the ball as of late (a strength for the team in the blow-out days that had given them control of the clock and kept opposing defenses guessing) and has gone back to relying disproportionately on the quarterback Drew Brees, tactic that did not serve the Saints well in the previous two seasons even though the Saints have one of the best quarterbacks in the league.

The Saints defense has been bizarre: opposing offenses have not had to punt too often against them though they have succeeded in making opponents go for field goals, which is significant. The “D” has also retained a knack for making big plays, whether they have been timely interceptions or fourth quarter force outs.

The factor that had been missing in the Saints close games was the Who Dat Nation en masse, which could be the factor against a tough Dallas team and in the post-season.

The Oddsmaker’s Take

Danny Sheridan of USA Today has the Saints as a 7.5 favorite against the Cowboys. That Dallas is clearly a better team than Atlanta, a team the Saints slipped past by a field goal, shows that the oddsmakers are buying into the significance of homefield advantage for the Saints.
Past performances and the strength of their opponent says take the points; the Saints’ victory over New England two weeks ago says give them and that the Black and Gold will somehow, inexplicably blow out the Cowboys. I say take the points.

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