Nearly a month into the 2021 NFL season and New Orleans will finally play a true home game when the Saints host the New York Giants in the recently-renamed Caesars Superdome on Sunday afternoon.
The impact of Hurricane Ida moved New Orleans' originally scheduled home opener to Jacksonville, Florida, followed by road games at Carolina and New England. The good news is that the Saints returned to the Crescent City with a 2-1 record and are slowly getting back to full strength. A handful of defenders returned to the lineup last week against the Patriots and made their presence felt as New Orleans intercepted rookie quarterback Mac Jones three times in the 28-13 victory.
Meanwhile, the Giants fell to 0-3 after squandering a seven-point, fourth-quarter lead at home against the Falcons. New York gave up the tying touchdown with less than five minutes left and then allowed Atlanta to march 58 yards in seven plays in less than two minutes to kick the game-winning, 40-yard field goal as time expired.
The Giants lead the all-time series, 16-14. For games played in New Orleans, the Saints hold the advantage, 9-3. Starting in 2012, these teams have split their four most recent meetings.
New York (0-3) at New Orleans (2-1)
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 3 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Saints -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Can the Saints continue to run the ball?
The ability to run the ball has been the key to the success of New Orleans' offense in the early going. In the season-opening win against the Packers, the Saints ran the ball 39 times for 171 yards. The following week in the loss at Carolina, they gained only 48 yards on 17 attempts. Last Sunday up in New England, it was 142 yards and a touchdown on the ground on 38 carries.
To no one's surprise, Alvin Kamara has carried the load for New Orleans. He has 52 carries, which is more than half of the team's total (94). His 177 rushing yards also account for nearly half of the team's total (361). Tony Jones Jr. is the only other non-quarterback who has run the ball more than once. He has 69 yards on 16 attempts. Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill have combined for 109 rushing yards and each has scored once on the ground.
After a rough start, New York's defense has done a better job against the run. Denver gashed the Giants for 165 yards on 28 carries (5.9 ypc) in Week 1, but since then New York has given up a total of 156 yards on 42 attempts (3.7 ypc) to Washington and Atlanta combined. Kamara is the best running back that the Giants will have faced to this point, so can they continue their recent success and hold their ground on Sunday, or will the Saints' superstar and company find plenty of room to run in the Superdome?
2. Giants’ ailing receivers vs. Saints’ recovering defensive backs
New York’s receiving corps is a M.A.S.H. unit heading into Sunday's game. Both Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton were forced out of last week's game because of hamstring injuries and neither has returned to practice, Shepard is leading the team with 18 catches for 223 yards and a touchdown while Slayton has seven grabs for 127 yards and a score. Fellow wide receiver Kenny Golladay, the Giants' big free-agent signing in the offseason, has been limited in practice due to a hip injury. He's also still figuring out his role in this offense with 11 catches for 166 yards through three games. Tight end Kaden Smith is dealing with a knee issue as well. New York could get John Ross back, as he's eligible to return to the active roster after going on injured reserve before the start of the season due to a hamstring issue.
It's a different story for New Orleans, as multiple defensive backs who missed the game at Carolina two weeks ago returned with gusto last Sunday. Marshon Lattimore recorded a game-high 10 tackles (eight solo) and an interception. P.J. Williams also picked off a pass and returned it 46 yards among his contributions, and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson also made his presence felt, including recording a sack. In total, The Saints picked off Mac Jones three times (Malcolm Jenkins returned his 34 yards for a touchdown), sacked him twice, hit him 11 times, and defended eight passes. eight solo and two assisted, plus an interception, and were credited with eight passes defensed. If health is going to be a factor for this game, it appears to heavily favor New Orleans.
3. How much of a factor will home-field advantage play?
The Saints will play a regular-season home game in the Superdome in front of a capacity crowd for the first time since December 2019. The home opener would normally sound raucous anyway. When one factors in that most of the fans in attendance were not permitted in the arena last season, the anticipation will surely elevate the crowd noise and maintain it.
The Saints had to spend more than four weeks away from home due to Hurricane Ida. They will finally have the opportunity to play in front of their fans in their home venue. The emotional surge should translate into loud and sustained noise, hampering the Giants’ offense.
The Giants have lost their last two games by a total of four points. Their passing game won't be at full strength and once again, protecting quarterback Daniel Jones (eight sacks) has been an issue. The key for New York's defense is to limit Kamara and the running game to force Winston, who has been inconsistent in the early going, to make plays.
The Saints managed to win two of the three games played on the road, with the victories occurring in dominating fashion. When Kamara has been able to run freely, they have trampled their opponents. If they can do that again in the first three quarters then let Hill enter the game with a lead to bleed the clock, they should win comfortably.
Prediction: Saints 30, Giants 16
— 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.