Contenders in their respective divisions meet in intriguing non-conference matchup
The New Orleans Saints and Buffalo Bills have both put themselves within sight of the playoffs at the NFL season's midway point, but they are coming off being on the opposite ends of blowout results last week.
The Saints extended their winning streak to six as they steamrolled the Buccaneers 30-10. The Black and Gold defense allowed only one touchdown, which occurred in the fourth quarter when the outcome was no longer in doubt.
The Bills have had extra time to stew over their 34-21 loss to the Jets last Thursday night. Two fourth-quarter touchdowns narrowed the margin of defeat but could not mask the domination by Gang Green of their upstate neighbors. The unsuccessful trip to New Jersey slowed the increasing hopes of Buffalo reaching the playoffs for the first time this century.
New Orleans has won the last four meetings between these teams, taking an overall 6-4 lead in the series, including a 3-1 advantage in games played in Buffalo. The Bills’ last victory over New Orleans occurred at home in 1998.
New Orleans at Buffalo
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 12 at 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Saints -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Bills’ running game vs. improved Saints defense
The Bills have relied heavily on their rushing attack. When they have exceeded 100 yards gained on the ground, they are 4–0. When opponents held them below 100 rushing yards, the Bills are 1–3.
Buffalo's leading rusher, LeSean McCoy (above, right), has played a key role in Buffalo’s success or lack thereof. In the Bills’ five victories, he has gained more than 75 yards on the ground for an average of 3.8 yards or more per carry in four of those. In the three losses, he never accumulated more than 63 rushing yards nor did his average per carry exceed 3.3.
The stingier Saints’ defense has bolstered the team’s chances of winning compared to previous seasons. The Black and Gold defense has kept opposing offenses under 100 rushing yards in half of their wins. More importantly, they have not allowed more than 24 points in any of their wins. Drew Brees and crew do not have to score every possession to have a chance at victory as happened so often in the three most recent seasons.
2. Importance of early leads
Buffalo has been more successful when it has grabbed the lead then let their defense hold off foes while the running game bleeds the clock in the second half. The Bills have won both games which they led after the first quarter. When they have gone into the locker room at halftime ahead of their opponents, they are 4-0. The Bills have split the two contests that were tied at the intermission.
Likewise, the Saints have benefitted from jumping ahead during the opening quarters. When leading after the first quarter, New Orleans has gone on to win all four times. With the advantage at halftime, they are 5-0. Being in the lead in the first half has allowed the Saints to maintain balance in their run-to-pass ratio, a key component in their current winning streak.
3. A bonus added to the Bills’ home-field advantage?
The Bills have been much more successful at home this season than on the road. They have won all four games in Orchard Park. Only once in their four road games have they left with a victory.
The weather appears that it will come to the aid of the Bills. A 40 percent chance of rain during the game along with winds blowing at 10-15 miles hour is in the forecast. Those conditions favor a defensive-oriented squad such as the Bills over the Saints, a team used to playing indoors and preferring to throw the ball.
The Saints have not protected the ball as consciously over the past four weeks as they did to start the season. That trend will prove harder to halt given the likely conditions in which the game will be played. They have fumbled the ball on average 2.2 times per game and at least once in the past five games, three of them played in the rain-free confines of the Superdome. Opponents recovered two Saints’ fumbles in both of their two most recent contests. Can they hang on to the ball in Buffalo given it will likely be slicker due to precipitation?
Although this is not an intra-conference game, its outcome still greatly matters to both teams’ playoff ambitions. The Saints lead their division by only a half-game. The Bills trail the division-leading Patriots by only one game. Even though the season is only at the halfway point, it is important for the Saints to maintain their momentum and for the Bills to re-capture theirs.
Prediction: Saints 23, Bills 17
— Written by John La Fleur, a contributor to AthlonSports.com, who focuses on the New Orleans Saints and Michigan State Spartans. He also frequently comments on other teams in the NFL and in NCAA football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur and read his viewpoints at gridironconnoisseur.wordpress.com and at gridiron-connoisseur.blogspot.com.