The Thanksgiving slate of NFL action will wrap up with a matchup of playoff contenders when the New Orleans Saints host the Buffalo Bills. Both will be looking to bounce back from disappointing losses.
Last Sunday, Buffalo (6-4) repeatedly gave away the ball and, as a result, the game to the Colts. Josh Allen threw an interception in each half. After the Colts scored a field goal, Isaiah McKenzie fumbled away the kickoff which Indianapolis converted into a touchdown one play later. Buffalo failed miserably in the turnover comparison, 4-0.
The Saints (5-5) also fell behind early and could not overcome the deficit. They trailed 27-7 at halftime and 33-7 at the end of the third quarter. Two interceptions in the first half, including one returned for a touchdown, sabotaged any chances of winning. Scores at the end of their final three possessions only succeeded in making the margin of defeat less odious.
The Saints lead the all-time series, 7-4, although the teams have split the six games in New Orleans. The Saints have won all five matchups in this century.
Both franchises have some experience playing on Thanksgiving Day. The Saints have won three games played on Thanksgiving Day, all under Sean Payton. The Bills first played on the holiday in 1961 and as recently as 2019, compiling a 4-4-1 record.
Thanksgiving Day: Buffalo (6-4) at New Orleans (5-5)
Kickoff: Thursday, Nov. 25 at 8:20 p.m. ET
Spread: Bills -4
Three Things to Watch
1. Can the banged-up Saints piece together a running game?
Sean Payton faces a dilemma over who to insert in the offensive line. Starting right tackle Ryan Ramczyk (knee) will not play and left tackle Terron Armstead (knee/shoulder) is questionable. This is in addition to fellow linemen Andrus Peat and Ethan Greenidge currently being on injured reserve.
New Orleans also will take the field with a depleted running back corps. Leading rusher Alvin Kamara will miss his third straight game with a knee injury. What's worse is that Mark Ingram II, who has been effective as Kamara's replacement, is officially questionable with his own knee injury. Ingram has effectively filled Kamara's dual-threat role with 45 carries for 205 yards and a touchdown plus 17 receptions for 132 yards. However, no other running back has accumulated more than 80 yards or scored a touchdown. Tony Jones Jr. just recently came off of IR so he could see more touches than usual. He's averaging just 3.6 yards per carry in limited action (22 att.) this season. Injuries also have limited Taysom Hill's various contributions to 20 rushing attempts for 104 yards and three touchdowns.
Buffalo has been very solid in run defense this season, although nose tackle Star Lotulelei has missed two games since being placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Buffalo has given up the ninth-fewest yards per game (101.9) and 11th-fewest yards per attempt (4.1). If Ingram cannot complete this game as the Saints' sole credible running threat, New Orleans' prospects of victory will significantly diminish.
2. Will the Bills be able to get anything going on the ground?
For Buffalo, its targeted amount of rushing yards and rushing touchdowns in a game are 120 and one, respectively. The Bills have not reached either number in any of their four losses. They have exceeded 120 yards on the ground in five of their six victories. They scored at least one rushing touchdown in every win.
A few Bills have contributed toward their rushing attack. Running back Devin Singletary leads Buffalo in rushing attempts (83) and yards (415). Allen has the second-highest totals of yards (340), yards per carry (5.6), and touchdowns (three). Zack Moss leads the team with four rushing touchdowns. However, no one among the Bills has gained more than 85 yards on the ground in any game so far.
The Saints' league-leading rushing defense looked porous at Philadelphia. The unit allowed 242 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. However, the Eagles are the only opponent to exceed 200 rushing yards this season — as was the case in 2020.
Despite the outlier in Philadelphia, the Saints have bottled up opposing rushing attacks. In its four contests prior to facing the Eagles, the New Orleans defense only allowed a combined total of 261 yards and two touchdowns. Only Washington has accumulated more than 100 rushing yards or more than one touchdown against the Saints in 2021.
3. Who will protect the ball more effectively?
Turnovers devastated both teams' chances of winning last Sunday and have cost them in other games. The Saints lost the turnover margin in four of their five losses, and they tied that battle in their loss to the Giants. Likewise, the Bills committed more turnovers than the opposition in three of their four defeats with the margin being equal in the loss at Tennessee.
Only eight teams have thrown more interceptions than the Bills this season, eight of which are from Josh Allen. And his accuracy has become even more problematic in recent weeks. Three weeks ago, the first two possessions of the second half of the defeat at Jacksonville ended due to Allen's interceptions. Their first possession versus the Colts ended with a pick, as did the second drive in the third quarter in the rout by Indianapolis.
The Bills have fumbled the ball 17 times in 10 games, the second-highest rate in the NFL. Josh Allen is responsible for six of those, tied for seventh most in the league. They have lost five of those which is tied for 11th in the NFL.
The Saints have much less margin for error if they keep turning the ball over, considering their significant injuries. When they did not commit a turnover, they won all three games against teams who currently lead their respective divisions. When their defense took away the ball at least twice, they are 4-0.
Although this is a non-conference matchup, the result matters to both teams' standings in their divisions. The loss to the Colts dropped the Bills out of first place in the AFC East, and the Saints fell two games behind Tampa Bay with their Week 11 loss.
Drew Brees will return to the Superdome as part of the NBC broadcasting crew. The Saints will honor him during halftime. Maybe Payton will take advantage of that occasion to try to lure Brees out of retirement? The Saints are desperate enough to try that at this point of a frustrating season.
Prediction: Bills 24, Saints 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 gridironconnoisseur.wordpress.com and at gridiron-connoisseur.blogspot.com.