One NFL team looking to continue its success on the road will face another hoping for a different outcome at home when the Seattle Seahawks host the New Orleans Saints on Saturday.
The Saints (1-3) continued their losing streak in London, falling 28-25 in a furious affair with Minnesota. Once again, excessive penalties and an untimely turnover sabotaged a possible victory. New Orleans finally grabbed the lead midway through the fourth quarter only to lose it at the end of the Vikings' subsequent drive. Wil Lutz connected on a 60-yard field goal with less than two minutes remaining to tie the game. However, his 61-yard attempt on the final play clanged off an upright and then off the crossbar.
Meanwhile, Seattle (2-2) enjoyed an offensive explosion in Detroit, scoring three touchdowns and a field goal on its first four possessions to take a 24-15 lead at halftime. The Seahawks scored just enough points in the third and fourth quarters to hold off the Lions' rally, leaving the Motor City with a satisfying, 48-45 victory.
Seattle (2-2) at New Orleans (1-3)
Three Things to Watch
1. Who can minimize mistakes?
Seattle enters this game dead even in the turnover department (6 giveaways, 6 takeaways) but some of the Seahawks' mistakes have been costly. Last week, Tyler Lockett fumbled on a punt return in the first quarter that set up Detroit's first touchdown. But in that same game, the defense recovered a fumble that led to a score, and Tariq Woolen returned a Jared Goff interception 40 yards for a touchdown to open the second half. Those two plays ended up being huge in a game Seattle held on to win 48-45. But this also demonstrates that the Seahawks don't have much margin for error when it comes to turnovers.
Giveaways have been even more of an issue for New Orleans. The Saints have the worst differential in the league (-7) thanks to six fumbles already lost and five interceptions. Penalties also have plagued this team on both sides of the ball. New Orleans has been flagged the second-most times on offense (34), which has cost the Saints a league-high 319 yards. The defense has fared a little better — 25 penalties for 231 yards.
Seattle is only a tick behind New Orleans when it comes to drawing yellow laundry. On offense, the Seahawks have been called for 32 infractions for 306 yards. On defense, it's 23 for 206. However, you want to slice it, turnovers and penalties figure to play a key role in the outcome of Sunday's encounter in the Caesars Superdome.
2. Can Geno Smith continue the revitalization of his career?
So far in this season, Smith has completed at least 23 passes in each game. In the previous seven seasons, he had accomplished that number only twice. Over his entire nine-year career, he had 20 or more completions per game in two consecutive contests only one time.
One focal point for Smith is avoiding being picked off by defenders. He threw one interception in each of Seattle's losses but none in either of their two victories. In his 3-plus seasons in Seattle, the Seahawks have lost all three games in which he has thrown an interception. Conversely, they are 4-2 when he did not toss the ball to the other team.
3. What to expect from Saints' short-handed offense
New Orleans put up a fight last Sunday in London despite being without the services of quarterback Jameis Winston, running back Alvin Kamara, and wide receiver Michael Thomas. They all won't be back this Sunday either. Andy Dalton will get another start with Winston still not 100 percent, and Thomas has already been ruled out. But Kamara is expected to return despite being limited in practice this week because of the rib injury.
Dalton was solid but not spectacular in his first start for the Saints, completing 20 of 28 passes for 236 yards, a touchdown, and no interceptions. He was sacked twice and lost a fumble.
Latavius Murray, who was elevated from the practice squad to take Kamara's place on the active roster, led the way on the ground with 57 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. But he's now in Denver after the Broncos signed him off of the Saints' practice squad on Tuesday. Mark Ingram II had already been sharing the carries with Kamara, and he's averaging 4.4 yards per carry with one touchdown thus far. Even if Kamara returns, Ingram figures to have a large role.
Thomas' absence puts more of the burden on rookie Chris Olave, who is leading the team with 31 receptions for 335 yards, while also presenting an opportunity for someone else to step up. Marquez Callaway got more involved last week (3 rec., 53 yds.) while Tre'Quan Smith hasn't done much outside of a big Week 3 performance (4 rec., 105 yds.) against Carolina. Jarvis Landry has been dealing with an ankle injury he is expected to play on Sunday. And perhaps tight ends Adam Trautman and Juwan Johnson will get more involved with Dalton throwing the passes. And expect Taysom Hill to factor in his tight end/Wildcat QB role, assuming he's healthy.
Despite losing three straight games, the Saints find themselves only one game behind the NFC South-leading Buccaneers. However, they have the weakest conference record, 1-3, in their division.
The Seahawks are 2-2, as is every team in the NFC West. Like New Orleans, Seattle has the weakest conference record (1-2) in its division.
At this point, both teams need to go on a winning streak to remain competitive in their respective divisions. For the Seahawks, that means repeating what they did last week: winning on the road. For the Saints, that starts by halting their three-game skid.
Prediction: Saints 23, Seahawks 20
— 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 gridiron-connoisseur.com and on YouTube.
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