As we start to look towards Week 16 in the NFL, a few things jump out at us: First off, the Dallas Cowboys are the only one of the three (competitive) NFC East teams that cannot clinch a playoff berth this weekend. No matter what happens, Dallas will not be guaranteed a golden ticket into the
chocolate factory playoffs. This is thanks in large part to key losses to wildcard competitors Seattle and Chicago, and also the Thanksgiving day loss to the 'Skins. Washington can wrap up the division with a bunch of help, and the Giants can somehow wrap up either a wildcard or division championship if every single thing in the world goes right for them. That obviously includes the return of a drug-crazed Lawrence Taylor, the fall of the North Korean government, and an immaculate conception between Eli Manning and his wife Abby (insert Eli is a virgin joke here).
Dammit Roy (AP Photo / Jose Yau)
But fear not children, none of that is possible if the Dallas Cowboys continue to take care of their own business. That business this week is the New Orleans Saints. The nightmarish season for the Saints will soon draw to a close, but not before they try to deliver a crushing blow to a geographically close NFC rival. Remember when the Cowboys ended their perfect season back in 2009? I bet the Saints do. Demarcus Ware's strip sack brought that to an end, but the Saints still finished with the last laugh while hoisting the Lombardi trophy that February. More recently, the Saints bested the Cowboys on Thanksgiving day of 2010. The enduring image blazed into our minds (at least mine) from the game is that of Roy Williams scampering down the seam for a game-clinching touchdown, only to be caught from behind, stripped of the ball, and sent back to Hell with a wooden stake through his heart. Maybe I exaggerated that last part. Maybe.
Anyways, the 2012 Saints have been full of weirdness. Ever since the suspension of Sean Payton, they've looked like a knight swinging a two-handed battle axe with his helmet on backwards. Unfortunately, the blind knight is still swinging and can occasionally deliver some force behind their blow if it connects. Just ask the Tampa Bay Bucs, who were on the receiving end of a 41-0 thrashing by the blind knights/Saints. The Saints are out of the playoff picture, and would surely enjoy dragging down the Cowboys with them.
Drew Brees is still All-Pro-record-setter-Super-Bowl-MVP Drew Brees. He has his full stable of horses as well, a dangerous group headlined by stud TE Jimmy Graham. Danny McCray had his struggles covering Heath Miller last week, and the job will be considerably tougher this week. Graham is an athletic freak, not unlike a young Tony Gonzalez, who can beat you in a multitude of ways. Other impact players include Lance Moore (a poor man's Miles Austin), Marques Colston (poor man's Dez Bryant), and Darren Sproles (rich man's Speedy Gonzalez). It will be again up to this defense to put pressure on Brees and force him into the mistakes that he's consistently made under pressure all year.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Saints have….well they've got….um…hmm. I'm not sure actually. I'm not sure they even line up a defense half the time. The Saints come in ranked at a grisly 32nd in total defense (that's last for you math wizards), and also give up a tied for 5th-worst 27.1 points per game. And they don't really discriminate whether you beat them by running or throwing the ball. They give up a 31st best 5.0 yards per carry on the ground and another 31st best 8.0 yards per passing attempt. It will be up to the Cowboys to not start slow and try to put their collective foot on the Saints throats.
To be sure, this is not the same Saints team we've seen since Sean Payton's been coach. And that actually kinda makes sense because, well, he's not the coach. Some will have you believe that he's actually closer to being the Dallas coach than he is the Saints' coach. We don't believe that. But regardless of the chatter, this is not a team to be taken lightly. They can still light up the scoreboard with the best of 'em, and will need to be taken seriously. Way more seriously than I've been writing this post. If Dallas can play sound coverage, force a few mistakes, and capitalize on the offensive end, they should be able to win this game. Jason Garrett won't let this team look past an opponent at this time of year. If there was ever a 6-8 team to not look past, it's this years version of the New Orleans Saints.
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