New Orleans enters this game on a two-game winning streak after starting 0-3. Kansas City has alternated winning and losing from week to week. Both won divisional games last week, as the Saints outlasted the Panthers 41-38 at home and the Chiefs beat the Raiders 26-10 on the road. And even though both teams currently sit in third place in their respective divisions, each remains within shouting distance of the leaders.
These two teams have split the previous 10 meetings. New Orleans is 3-1 in games played in Kansas City. These teams have not met since Sept. 23, 2012. The Chiefs beat the Saints at home in that game, winning 27-24 in overtime behind 233 rushing yards from Jamaal Charles.
New Orleans at Kansas City
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 23 at 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Chiefs -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Jamaal Charles' health and Spencer Ware's capability
Ware has played adequately in place of Charles, who missed the first three games while recovering from knee surgery for a torn ACL. Somewhat ironically, Ware posted his first 100-yard rushing game (131) last week against Oakland in a game in which Charles (9 att., 31 yds., TD) played too. Did the return of Charles and the subsequent sharing of touches light a fire under Ware?
The burning question for Kansas City is where is Charles in his recovery from his second serious knee injury? In two games, he has carried the ball 11 times for 40 yards (3.6 ypc) and has caught two passes for 14 yards (both receptions came last week). Is he ready to shoulder the load of the Chiefs' rushing attack with double-digit carries for the first time since more than a year ago? New Orleans could be a good barometer for Charles considering the Saints are 26th in the league against the run, allowing 117.8 yards per game and a league-worst 11 rushing touchdowns.
2. Drew Brees facing Chiefs’ daunting pass defense
The Saints' anemic defense has allowed more than 400 yards and more than 30 points in four of their five games. The mediocre running game has exceeded 100 yards in only one game. Those deficiencies put the burden of achieving victory on Brees and his receivers. He has thrown for more than 300 yards in three games this season and more than 400 twice, including a season-high 465 (and four TDs) in last week’s win over Carolina.
In contrast, Kansas City has yet to allow any of its five opponents throw for more than 300 yards. The Chiefs also have allowed more than 30 points in one game so far. Even in the three games in which they have given up more than 100 yards rushing, Kansas City has managed to win two of them.
Can Brees and his crew find the formula to having success against this defense? Remember, the Saints aren’t playing in the friendly confines of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. This game is at Arrowhead Stadium, so it will not only be subject to the elements, but New Orleans also will have to deal with one of the NFL’s toughest home environments to play in.
3. Continued improvement of Alex Smith's passing
The Chiefs do not need Smith to pile up huge passing numbers to win. He has only thrown for more than 300 yards once this season, in the Week 1 overtime victory against San Diego. He followed that game up with just 186 yards in the loss at Houston.
Smith’s primary job as Kansas City’s quarterback is not turn the ball over. In the Chiefs’ three wins they are plus-8 in turnover differential. In the losses, they are minus-3. Sometimes it really is that simple.
Smith just needs to throw enough to keep defenses honest and from stacking up the box or overloading the line of scrimmage to stop the running game. Kansas City is not going to take a ton of shots downfield or try to beat you by throwing it all over the field, a la New Orleans. Instead, Smith will look to complete short and intermediate passes and let the likes of Ware, Charles and others do the heavy lifting and try and wear down the opposition, as well as eating up the clock.
Even though this isn’t a conference game, it’s still an important matchup for both teams. Kansas City enters just a half game behind Oakland in the AFC West, while New Orleans trails Atlanta by a game and a half for first place in the NFC South. A victory would allow the winner to keep pace in their respective division, while a loss puts that team farther down in the pecking order for the wild card spots
The Saints inevitably end up in high-scoring shootouts when they have a realistic chance of winning. The Chiefs' stingy defense doesn't appear likely to allow New Orleans to move the ball and score so easily. The Chiefs' offense is formidable enough, with or without Jamaal Charles doing some of the damage, to score more than 30 points versus the Saints, especially with home-field advantage on their side.
Prediction: Chiefs 34, Saints 24
— 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