Points were not a problem for either Washington or New Orleans last week, although the two teams wound up with differing results in the end. At home against Minnesota, the Redskins and Vikings traded scores through most of the first half. But on the first play following a touchdown that put Minnesota up 17-14 with less than two minutes in the second quarter, Kirk Cousins threw an interception setting the Vikings up deep in Washington’s territory. Three plays later, Minnesota scored again and never relinquished the lead, eventually winning 38-30.
Meanwhile up in Buffalo, it appeared that the Saints were heading into a possible ambush against the Bills. Instead, a black and gold nor’easter blew through New Era Field. The Saints scored on eight of their 11 possessions, coasting to a 47-10 win, their seventh in a row. The only times New Orleans didn't score, the offense was running out the clock at the end of each half. Buffalo's lone touchdown didn't come until there were less than two minutes left in the game.
Washington leads the all-time series, 17-8 and won four of the past five matchups, a stretch that goes back to 2006.
Washington at New Orleans
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 19 at 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Saints -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Can the Redskins win the turnover battle?
The Redskins must stay ahead in this statistic in order to slow down Drew Brees and red-hot New Orleans. When they have forced more turnovers by their opponents than they committed, Washington is 3-1. Conversely, when the 'Skins have given the away the ball more than they have taken it from the other team, they are 1-3. The goal is pretty simple: protect the ball and force the other team into mistakes. This also would help subdue what's sure to be a raucous home crowd in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
2. Are the Saints capable of maintaining their focus despite phenomenal success to this point?
Very few players currently on the roster were with the team the last time New Orleans had a winning record this far into the season. Remaining in serous contention for a playoff berth in mid-November is a novelty to nearly everyone on this team. In the past three seasons, the national media mostly ignored this franchise.
However, many more eyes will be focused on them and many more media want to speak with the Saints. ;This week, head coach Sean Payton lamented the exceedingly high number of requests by various media outlets for interviews. Have those taken time away from game preparation?
The next two games have been adjusted to widen their audiences viewing them. The NFL pushed New Orleans Week 12 game in Los Angeles against the NFC West-leading Rams over to CBS, which has a double-header that weekend. The following week, the home game against Carolina was re-scheduled for FOX’s late afternoon lineup instead of the original 1 p.m. ET kickoff.
Will all this newly found attention distract the Saints? While winning seven straight games stands out as remarkable, that does not guarantee them anything. They are far from clinching the NFC South crown. In fact, they have not yet even secured a winning season. Can they tune out all the adulation, both local and national, to stay on task?
3. Will the Redskins cobble together a rushing attack?
Rob Kelley suffered a knee injury on Sunday. That, combined with a previously sprained ankle, sent him to the injured reserve list. His absence leaves Samaje Perine, Chris Thompson and Byron Marshall as the only running backs on the active roster.
Washington has not had much production from anyone in this trio. Thompson leads the team in rushing (277 yards) and total touchdowns (five), but that's less than 40 yards per game on the ground. He's been more effective as a receiver (38 rec., 484 yds., 3 TDs) out of the backfield. Perine, a rookie, is averaging just 3.2 yards per carry and is still looking for his first rushing touchdown. Marshall was signed this week from Philadelphia's practice squad. He ran for 64 yards in three games as a rookie with the Eagles last season.
The Redskins’ reconfigured backfield could be in for a tough debut against New Orleans' rejuvenated defense. The Saints have held opponents to less than 100 rushing yards in four of their last seven games with no team exceeding 181 on the season. They are 16th in the NFL at 110.9 rushing yards per game allowed and have surrendered just five touchdowns on the ground (tied for sixth fewest).
The Redskins have the misfortune of being in the same division with the team holding the best record in the NFL. They trail the Eagles by four games with only seven to play. Given that Philadelphia swept the Burgundy and Gold in their home-and-home series, an NFC East title seems improbable. A shot at a wild card berth will require a considerable winning streak to close the regular season.
The Saints are riding the NFL's second-longest winning streak. However, their 7-2 record leaves them only a half-game ahead of Carolina in the NFC South. New Orleans cannot afford to drop a game, especially at home against a struggling opponent.
Prediction: Saints 34, Redskins 10
— 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.