Both Dallas and New Orleans limp into this prime-time clash after a loss to a member of the NFC South. The difference is the current record of each team. Atlanta's victory in Jerry World was the first loss of the season for head coach Jason Garrett and the Cowboys. The defeat at Carolina was the second loss within the division and third overall for the Saints.
The Cowboys lead the all-time series, 16-11. However, they are 6-7 in games in New Orleans. The Saints have won eight of the last 10 meetings, dating back to 1998. The Cowboys defeated the Saints 38-17 in the most recent matchup in 2014.
Dallas at New Orleans
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Saints -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Drew Brees last the entire game?
New Orleans head coach Sean Payton can sense the season is slipping away from his team. The chances of reaching the playoffs have become highly unlikely. Therefore, he will gamble that Brees' rotator cuff has healed sufficiently. His former NFL MVP will start the game.
Luke McCown had a respectable showing at Carolina. He led the Saints down the field with a chance to score the winning touchdown in the waning minutes of the game. Under his leadership, the Saints scored 16 points on offense, just three fewer than the Brees-directed crew did in the first two games.
If Brees cannot throw effectively or ends up re-injured, can McCown step into the game and win it? Can McCown improve upon his sufficient effort against the Panthers or at least replicate it?
2. Saints' rushing attack vs. Cowboys' rushing defense
Dallas allowed more rushing yards to Atlanta (158) than they did in the first two games combined (106). Devonta Freeman had the most successful day of his professional career in that game. He scored more touchdowns in the game than he had scored in all of his previous NFL games combined. More than a quarter of his career rushing yards were gained in that game. Was Freeman's success an anomaly or did he and the Falcons expose the Cowboys' front seven?
New Orleans would be ecstatic to have all of its running backs combine to achieve Freeman's rushing total in a game. The highest team rushing total for the Saints has been 104 yards. Freeman's total against the Cowboys exceeds the season total for every Saints player by more than 30 yards. Can Mark Ingram, Khiry Robinson, C.J. Spiller and the rest of the Saints carry the ball and pile up enough yards to avoid relying on Brees' arm to win?
3. Sunday night magic?
Under Payton, the Saints' record on Sunday night is 8-1 and perfect inside the Superdome. The lone loss occurred against the Cowboys in Dallas last season. Will the Who Dat Nation be able to will their team to victory with the extra hours of preparation/inebriation to make the arena deafening for Brandon Weeden and his squad? Have a noticeable number of Saints fans sold their tickets to Cowboys fans as has happened in recent years when this matchup occurred in New Orleans?
The Saints' chances of reaching the playoffs hang in the balance and only by a thread. They will play with a sense of urgency. Starting 0-4 with all the losses occurring in conference games would kill any hope of securing even a wild card spot.
Cowboys find themselves in safer position despite the absence of Tony Romo. A loss would not devastate the Cowboys' postseason possibilities. Even with a loss, Dallas would still be in first place in the NFC East thanks to its 2-0 record within the division.
The return of Brees under center and the home-field advantage will tilt a nail-biter in the Saints' favor.
Prediction: Saints 20, Cowboys 17
— Written by John La Fleur, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network. A graduate of Michigan State and LSU, La Fleur also has been a Saints fan since he was old enough to understand football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur.