Two teams in tight divisional races meet in Cincinnati
After ending the Los Angeles Rams' undefeated season last week, the New Orleans Saints look to extend their winning streak to eight in a row against the Cincinnati Bengals. After jumping out to a 21-point lead late in the second quarter, the Saints allowed the Rams to tie the score midway through the fourth quarter. At that point, the Saints stopped coasting. Drew Brees led the offense to 10 unanswered points, while the defense clamped down on Jared Goff and his receivers.
The Bengals have had two weeks to prepare for this game. This will conclude their set of four games against the NFC South, having defeated Tampa Bay and Atlanta and losing at Carolina.
The Bengals lead the all-time series, 7-6. The Saints hold an advantage of 4-3 in games played in Cincinnati. The Bengals have won four of the five most recent matchups dating back to 1996.
New Orleans at Cincinnati
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 11 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Bengals +4
Three Things to Watch
1. With A.J. Green out, can any other Bengal exploit the Saints' secondary?
Green has been ruled out of this game due to an injured toe on his right foot. He has started all eight games so far and leads Cincinnati with 687 receiving yards and six touchdowns. He has caught the second-most passes on the team. Tyler Boyd is the only other Bengal with more than 20 receptions, 200 receiving yards or two receiving touchdowns this season. Is there anyone on this roster who can fill in for Green and pose a threat to the Saints' secondary? Will the return of Auden Tate after being waived in October make a difference?
The Saints' defensive backs have done little to control opponents' passing attacks. The Saints rank as the second-weakest passing defense in terms of yards allowed, 311.4 per game on average. They have given up at least 234 passing yards in every game. They have allowed 18 passing touchdowns, tied for fourth most in the league, and their four interceptions are tied for fifth fewest.
2. Could the weather negatively affect the Saints in Cincinnati?
The Saints will play only their third outdoor game of this season in Cincinnati. At this point of the season, teams accustomed to playing indoors may encounter less than ideal meteorological conditions on the road. Such teams struggle to replicate high winds or cold temperatures in practice leading up to their games.
However, the forecast for this game seems to bring positive news for the Saints. While the projected high temperature of 48 degrees will feel quite cool by New Orleans' standards for early November, it is far from freezing. The wind velocity of five to 10 miles per hour will not disrupt the Saints' high-flying offense. The chance of any precipitation is listed as zero. The Bengals will not have an ally in the weather for this contest.
3. Does the Cincinnati defense have a prayer of slowing down Drew Brees and the Saints' passing attack?
The Bengals rank as the most generous defense in the NFL in the category of average passing yards allowed per game: 319.4. They are tied with the Saints for most passing touchdowns scored by opponents. They allow the second-most completions per game (28). The absence of linebackers Carl Lawson and Nick Vigil due to knee injuries makes Cincinnati's defense even weaker. On the positive side, the Bengals have picked off 10 passes, tied for sixth most in the NFL.
The Saints' passing game appears poised to shred the Bengals' secondary. The Saints have averaged 289.9 passing yards per game, seventh most in the NFL, and have fallen short of 200 passing yards in only one of their eight games. They have exceeded 300 passing yards in half of their games. Drew Brees should have a field day at Paul Brown Stadium.
Despite the Saints' seven-game winning streak, they still trail the Rams by a half-game for the top spot in the NFC. Also, the Saints lead the Panthers in the NFC South by only one game. Though this game does not carry quite as much weight as the upcoming conference and divisional contests, a win in Cincinnati would put the Saints in first place in the NFC, thanks to the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Like the Saints, Cincinnati has some more important games following this one. Likewise, the Bengals are trailing only Pittsburgh in the AFC North, by a half-game.
This game has the look of a very high-scoring affair. Both secondaries appear unable to cover the other team's receivers. The Saints' leading receiver, Michael Thomas, will play on Sunday. The Bengals' top pass catcher, A.J. Green, will miss the game. That will make the difference.
Prediction: Saints 48, Bengals 37
— 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.