Sean Payton’s gamble to run a surprise onside kick in Super Bowl XLIV will forever be remembered as a defining moment for the New Orleans Saints. Last weekend Payton got a taste of his own medicine, as the head coach on the other sideline made a gutsy decision to go for two with the game on the line. Jack Del Rio’s call worked out and the Raiders beat the Saints 35-34.
In Dallas, meanwhile, the New York Giants found themselves in the same exact situation as last year: up by less than a touchdown and trying to keep the Cowboys from engineering a last-second drive to win the game. Unlike last year, however, the Giants now have a defense capable of making a late-game stop, which is exactly what happened to ensure a 20-19 victory in AT&T Stadium.
Now the Saints and Giants will square up in Week 2 with another narrative dominating the headlines. The matchup between the teams last year was the very definition of a shootout as Drew Brees and Eli Manning combined for 855 passing yards and a league-record 13 touchdowns in a 52-49 Saints victory. Will this year’s iteration feature the same amount of offense and drama, or will a revamped Giants’ defense keep Drew Brees and the Saints at bay?
New Orleans at New York
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 18 at 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: New York -4.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Away Game Drew Brees vs. the New-Look Giants’ Defense
While the Giants lost many close games in the final minutes last year because of their defense, the game against the Saints may have been the biggest indicator that the defensive side of the ball needed a makeover. Enter general manager Jerry Reese’s $200 million offseason haul: Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison and Janoris Jenkins. The trio looked strong in Week 1, limiting Ezekiel Elliott to only 2.6 yards per carry and forcing Dak Prescott to settle for short passes all afternoon long. Their next task is to prevent Drew Brees and New Orleans from dropping another 50 points this Sunday.
Even without the defensive changes, however, it’s unlikely that the Saints’ offense would be scoring at such a prolific rate in MetLife Stadium. As incredible of a quarterback as Brees is, the numbers prove that he is a different player outside the confines of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Last season, Brees threw 23 touchdowns and five interceptions at home while tossing nine touchdowns and six picks on the road. While the temperature has yet to drop along the Atlantic coast, the Saints’ offense will likely have a tougher time than it did a year ago.
2. Giants’ WR Trio vs. Saints’ Secondary
New York wasn’t the only team to improve its defense this offseason. New Orleans added linebacker James Laurinaitis and defensive tackle Nick Fairley, although the defense did not have quite the same debut that Giants’ did. Where the real issue lies, however, is in the secondary.
Delvin Breaux signed with the Saints last year out of the CFL and immediately proved to the league that he deserves to be in the conversation of shutdown cornerbacks. This year, however, he broke his fibula in the game against the Raiders and now leaves the Saints with a massive hole. The Saints will look to either Sterling Moore, who just recently signed and has yet to take the field for the team, or rookie Ken Crawley to start in place of Breaux.
Whoever does get the nod will have to go up against one of the most talented receiving trios in the NFL. By this point Odell Beckham Jr.’s talent is undeniable. Rookie Sterling Shepard impressed throughout preseason and caught his first NFL touchdown pass in Week 1, providing OBJ with a running mate he’s never had before. Victor Cruz, who also caught a TD pass in his first NFL game in 700 days, seems to have returned as a very capable slot receiver, giving Eli Manning yet another option in the passing game. The Giants ran every single passing play last week out of a three-receiver set, so look for head coach Ben McAdoo to exploit the Saints’ weakness in the secondary.
3. Josh Brown’s Return
New York kicker Josh Brown was suspended one game by the NFL after serious allegations from his ex-wife regarding domestic violence. The Giants stood by Brown’s side, keeping him on the roster and signing Randy Bullock to take his place against the Cowboys. Bullock missed an extra point attempt last week and was promptly released by the Giants as soon as Brown became eligible for reinstatement. In close games such as the one last week the Giants appreciate having Brown’s consistent performance. Since joining the team in 2013 he has made 92 percent of his field goal attempts. If this game does end up being close, look for New York to have more confidence in sending Brown out for a late-game kick.
The Ben McAdoo era got off to a strong start last weekend as the Giants exorcised their fourth quarter demons from the previous season. The Saints, meanwhile, come in bruised and out of their element. In a game headlined by two elite quarterbacks, look for Eli Manning to have an easier time against the Saints’ defense than Drew Brees does against New York’s. The Giants should take a first-half lead and carry it comfortably to the final whistle.