Two teams seeking their first victory of the season meet in the Superdome
In the NFL regular-season opener, the Chiefs spoiled the night of the unveiling of New England's Super Bowl LI banner in Foxboro. After leading at halftime and at the end of the third quarter, the Patriots suffered a defensive collapse. The Chiefs scored touchdowns on three of their five possessions of the fourth quarter.
In the first "Monday Night Football" game of this season, the Saints could not find the end zone until the outcome was no longer in doubt. Meanwhile, the Vikings blew away the mirage of an improved Saints’ defense.
New England leads the all-time series, 9-4. For games played in New Orleans, the Patriots hold a 4-1 advantage. The Patriots have won four of the five most recent match-ups.
New England at New Orleans
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. at 17 at 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Patriots -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Any semblance of a rushing attack for the Saints?
It is a new season, yet it is the same old struggle for the Saints’ offense. Three tailbacks each carried the ball six or seven times against the Vikings for 17 or 18 yards apiece. None scored a touchdown. The paltry total: 60 rushing yards on 21 attempts for the entire offense.
The Chiefs’ rushing attack gashed the Patriots for 185 rushing yards, the most the Patriots have allowed since Week Seven of 2014. But it wasn't just the yardage total — it was the Chiefs' average gain of 6.9 yards per attempt that really hurt the Patriots. Considering that the Patriots allowed 100 or more rushing yards in two consecutive weeks only one time last season, no one should expect such repeated generosity from the Patriots’ defenders.
2. Tom Brady’s response to a sub-par performance
Brady struggled through the season opener with a 44 percent completion percentage. He had not endured a similar performance since a two-point loss at Miami in the 2005 regular-season finale of 2005, when he completed only 3-of-8 pass attempts for 37 yards along with a touchdown and an interception, although with the AFC East title secured, he did not play the entire game. The following week, in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs, he completed 15-of-27 passes attempts for 201 yards and three touchdowns, as the Patriots crushed the Jaguars 28-3.
On three other occasions, Tom Terrific had a lower completion percentage than he did in the 2017 NFL season opener. In 2003, New England managed to defeat the Giants on the road 17-6 in spite of Brady’s eight completions in 21 passing attempts for only 112 yards and no touchdowns. He followed up that meager effort with a win at home versus Miami with 24 completions on 34 attempts for 283 yards and two touchdowns. Later that season, the Patriots shut out the Cowboys, 12-0, despite Brady’s minimal contribution: 15-of-34 passing for 212 yards and no touchdowns. The next week at Houston, he connected on 29-of-47 passing attempts for 368 yards and two touchdowns in a victory. The following season, during a win at Miami, he had only seven completions in 19 attempts with one interception, though he did toss two touchdowns. In the next game, he led New England to a win in Seattle, going 19-of-30 for 231 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
3. Extra preparation time vs. home-field advantage
The Patriots have nine days in between their previous game and this one. From 2013-16, they are 9–4 with more than six days to prepare for a game.
In contrast, the Saints have only five days to prepare, although what appears to be a glaring disadvantage has not proven to be so over the past four seasons. The Saints have won 10 of their 12 contests following short weeks since Sean Payton returned from his one-year suspension.
In the four previous seasons, the Patriots’ record away from Foxboro is 22–12. In that span, they have won all eight games played inside domed stadiums.
After finishing undefeated in the Superdome in 2013, the Saints’ invincibility at home has crumbled. Their record over the past three seasons in home games is 11–13. They have not had a winning record at home in any of those seasons.
Despite the bitter season opener, not all is bleak for the Patriots. Brady has shown that he never lets underwhelming passing performance carry over to the next game. Plus, the Patriots have demonstrated an aptitude for winning games on the road, particularly when the venues negate any potential weather issues.
Despite indications to the contrary, the Saints have not solved the problems bedeviling them over the past three seasons. Their defense struggles to pressure the opponent's quarterback. An inexperienced and struggling secondary cannot cover receivers. The Saints fall behind, then abandon their ho-hum rushing attack. Though Drew Brees and his crew can often pile up passing yards and score some points, those typically do not suffice. Additionally, the Superdome’s reputation as a hostile venue has not translated recently into more wins than losses at home.
Prediction: Patriots 34, Saints 20
— 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 and read his viewpoints at gridironconnoisseur.wordpress.com and at gridiron-connoisseur.blogspot.com.