New Orleans will try and snap its five-game losing streak when the Saints take on the New York Jets in MetLife Stadium on Sunday. New Orleans (5-7) has gone from within striking distance of Tampa Bay in the NFC South to holding a top-10 pick in next year's draft because of the prolonged skid. The Jets (3-9) have had a rougher go of things but didn't enter the season with the same level of expectations as the Saints.
New Orleans had hoped that the insertion of Taysom Hill as the full-time quarterback would revise the offense, but it didn't materialize in a 27-17 home loss to Dallas last Thursday night. Hill made an impact with his legs, averaging more than nine yards per carry on his way to a game-high 101 rushing yards, but he completed less than half of his passes, tossed four interceptions (one of which was returned for a touchdown), and suffered a finger injury.
Meanwhile, New York looked even worse, losing 33-18, in particularly embarrassing fashion, at home to Philadelphia last Sunday. The Eagles scored on their first seven drives, piling up 418 yards in the process. The Jets did go 3-for-3 in red zone opportunities, scoring a touchdown every trip, but managed just 70 rushing yards and were only 3-for-9 on third down.
The Saints lead the head-to-head series with the Jets 7-6, including three wins in the last five meetings. The last time these teams played was in Week 15 of the 2017 season in New Orleans. The Saints won 31-19 with Drew Brees, Mark Ingram II, and Michael Thomas leading the way on offense. Brees is now retired, Ingram is on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, and Thomas is on injured reserve.
New Orleans (5-7) at New York (3-9)
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 12 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Saints -5.5
Three Things to Watch
1. The Saints' quarterback dilemma
New Orleans lost Jameis Winston on Halloween to a season-ending knee injury. Since then the Saints’ quarterback situation has looked frightful.
Trevor Siemian replaced Winston in that game against Tampa Bay. He started the next four. In those games, he went 99-for-173 as a passer for 1,073 yards with nine touchdowns and three interceptions. He was not helped much by a porous offensive line that has been depleted by injuries, getting sacked eight times, and the running game has been stuck in neutral lately as well. Most importantly, Siemian is 0-4 as the starter.
Hill has struggled with injuries. He sustained a concussion in Week 5. Plantar fasciitis slowed him in the two previous games. Then last week, he injured the middle finger on his throwing hand in the loss to Dallas. It's not bad enough to require surgery, but that doesn't mean it won't impact him either.
Despite missing four games and only starting five, Hill has shown both signs of athleticism and inconsistency. Making his first start against the Cowboys, Hill went 19-of-41 as a passer for 264 yards, two touchdowns, and four interceptions. But he also picked up 111 yards on the ground on just 11 carries.
Right now, the only other quarterback on the active roster is Ian Book, the team's fourth-round pick in this year's draft. He has yet to see any action, and head coach Sean Payton has never used a rookie quarterback during his 15-year tenure. Are the Saints desperate enough to do something that drastic?
2. Saints' rushing attack vs. Jets' rushing defense
New York possesses one of the most generous rushing defenses in the NFL. The Jets have surrendered 133.4 yards on the ground per game, ranking 30th in the league. They also have yielded 21 rushing touchdowns, the most on the ground by any team. Only two opponents have failed to go over 100 rushing yards against New York.
Not surprisingly, when Gang Green has done a good job against the run, it has increased their chances of winning. In their wins over Cincinnati and Houston, the Jets allowed a total of 137 rushing yards. In their nine losses, that number balloons to 143 per game.
New Orleans' running game could get a much-needed boost in the return of Alvin Kamara. The Saints' best player has missed the last four games because of a knee injury but he was able to return to practice in a full capacity and is looking good for Sunday. Even though Kamara has missed four games, he still has more than twice as many rushing yards (530) as anyone else on the team (Ingram, 233).
Additionally, Kamara is the team's leading receiver with 32 catches, third in receiving yards (310), and second in touchdown catches (four). Kamara's absence can't be overstated, especially with New Orleans dealing with so many injuries. The combination of Kamara's hopeful return and the matchup against the Jets' defense could be just what the Saints needed to jump-start this offense.
3. Placekicking problems
The Saints have played their entire season without presumed placekicker Wil Lutz. Aldrick Rosas got the first crack, but he was cut after missing three of four field goal attempts. Next, Cody Parkey only lasted one week after failing on two of five extra point tries. Brian Johnson assumed the duties over the following five games yet experienced similar difficulties, going just 7-for-10 on PATs. Brett Maher has handled the duties in the last three games, going 1-for-3 on field goals and 4-for-5 on PATs.
The Jets also have struggled in the placekicking department. Rookie Matt Ammendola struggled with consistency before he was released. He failed on his first professional field goal attempt, which to be fair was from 53 yards out. But also missed an extra point attempt against Atlanta in Week 5. In Week 11, he missed field goals from 40 and 55 yards in a seven-point loss to Miami. Ammendola missed another field goal in the win over Houston the following week but was then waived and signed to the practice squad. New York elevated Alex Kessman from the practice squad to the active roster last Sunday, and he proceeded to miss both of his PAT attempts. Not surprisingly, Kessman was released on Monday and the Jets signed Eddy Piñeiro, who was the Bears kickers in 2019 before spending all of 2020 on injured reserve. New York is really hoping that when it comes to kickers, the third time's the charm.
At the end of October, New Orleans was 5-2 and right on the heels of Tampa Bay, whom the Saints had just beaten, in the NFC South. Five weeks later, they are 5-7 and facing an uphill climb to get into the playoffs.
New York is still mathematically alive in the AFC but pretty much needs a miracle to contend for a postseason berth. Desperate to snap this losing streak, New Orleans will take advantage of this matchup and extinguish any flickering hopes the Jets have of finding a wild card under their Christmas tree.
Prediction: Saints 21, Jets 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.