The NFL season is just past its halfway point, and the postseason picture is far from certain at this point. In both the AFC and NFC, there are going to be entertaining division and wild card races to watch in the last two months of the regular season. In Week 10, perhaps the most interesting game is between the New Orleans Saints and Buffalo Bills. Both squads have been off to surprising starts in 2017, with the Saints coming into this one at 6-2 and leading the NFC South. Buffalo is 5-3 on the year and currently in second in the AFC East. These interconference games later in the season between relevant teams make for quality television on a Sunday afternoon.
As has been the case for quite some time, New Orleans is led by elite quarterback Drew Brees. Brees is fifth in the league in passing yards and is only behind Alex Smith and Tom Brady in quarterback rating for starting quarterbacks playing the majority of the season. He also is taking care of the ball better than in the last few years, with just four interceptions in eight games to go with 13 touchdown passes. When playing the Saints, he’s still the key cog in the scouting report. The Bills’ defense will attempt to keep him off-balance all game. That will be no easy task for Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott and his staff.
The main reason the Saints have been able to win more games this year has been the balance of the offense, though. The running game has been very effective since their 0-2 start, and they have gotten good production out of backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. After the Adrian Peterson experiment ended and he was traded to the Arizona Cardinals for a conditional draft pick (as was reported by Dianna Russini of ESPN), New Orleans was able to solidify the roles of their two gifted backs. Lead man Mark Ingram has 541 yards on the ground, and Kamara has emerged as the change-of-pace back, with 311 yards rushing and a 6.0 yard-per-carry average. Their effectiveness against linebacker Preston Brown and the Bills eighth-ranked rushing defense will be vital to the outcome of this one.
If the Bills’ defense can slow this Saints running game down in the early going to negate play-action, they’ll have a good chance to pull out a win, as Brees has struggled in cold weather games in his career with the Saints, as John Breech of CBS Sports pointed out earlier this week.
“Since joining the Saints in 2006, Brees has only played a total of 11 regular season games when the temperature is 45 degrees or below and he’s 4-7 in those games. Oh, and he hasn’t played in a game this cold since 2014.”
The other way Buffalo could look to win this one is with ball-control offense of their own. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor hasn’t been a world-beater this season, but he usually doesn’t need to be for the Bills to be winning games. He’s been able to manage games by not turning the ball over (with just two interceptions), and now he has a new toy this week in wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who “looks like he’ll be ready to go,” according to Joel A. Erickson of theadvocate.com. The Bills will look to keep Brees, wide receiver Michael Thomas, and company off the field with effective running from LeSean McCoy and Taylor, mixed in with a few big plays in the passing game to Benjamin and receiving yardage leader Charles Clay. It will be fun to watch talented Saints rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore battle Benjamin at times down the field. As Pro Football Focus has demonstrated, this young corner has looked like he’s of the “shutdown” variety. He’s been their highest-graded rookie, but Bills rookie cornerback Tre’Davious White has held his own as well. Both passing games are going to have their work cut out for them, as both defenses can create turnovers.
New acquisition safety Micah Hyde has made a difference with five picks for the Bills’ new philosophy with more zone coverage, and Buffalo leads the league in turnover margin, according to the Football Database. New Orleans’ improved defense is tied for fourth in interceptions, so they’re no slouch, either. The team who can avoid having to throw the ball really often in November Buffalo weather will likely win this game, so the battle in the trenches will be paramount.
With the Saints rarely playing in these kinds of conditions, Buffalo should have the home-field advantage. Buffalo wins this one against the Saints and gets back on track with complimentary football. They take the W in this key interconference matchup 18-14, as the Bills try to avenge their NFL-long playoff drought. On the other side of things, New Orleans still looks like a legitimate playoff team in the NFC, despite the loss.
[Featured Image by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images]