Fearless Prediction: Cowboys-Saints
KICKOFF: Saturday, 8:20 p.m. ET
TV: NFL Network (Bob Papa, Matt Millen)
KEYS TO THE GAME: If the Saints have shown an clear
vulnerability, it’s in defending the run the second half of the
season. They allow 112.0 rushing yards per game overall, and the
Cowboys will use a mix of three running backs in an effort to
protect their defense and quiet a loud indoor crowd. QB Tony Romo
must make solid reads and be accurate working against a defense
that has 24 interceptions. The Cowboys could be getting FS Ken
Hamlin back just in time. They are vulnerable in deep coverage, and
that’s exactly where Saints Brees will put the pressure on. He has
13 interceptions against one interception the past four games, and
has thrown it 40-plus times in consecutive weeks as New Orleans has
been more pass-heavy than earlier in the season.
FAST FACTS: Cowboys RB Marion Barber has averaged just 3.96
yards per carry the past five games. … New Orleans is 6-0 and
averaging 36.7 points at home this season.
- K Nick Folk has retained his job and the Cowboys are
confident he will kick well against the Saints after missing six
of his last nine kicks and one in each of the last five games.
“He’s been real consistent hitting the ball, especially
this week,” coach Wade Phillips said. “I’m pleased about that.
From talking to him, he feels he’s hitting the ball well. He
feels like he’s worked out some of the things that he needed to
work out, so I think his confidence level is good. I feel like
he’s going to be able to do it. He’s shown it in practice he’s
hitting the ball better, so I feel good about it going into this
game, or we wouldn’t have him kicking.”
- CB Chris McAlister was one of five players worked out by the
Cowboys on Thursday. The others were running back Herb Donaldson,
tackle Cliff Louis, defensive tackle Henry Smith (Texas A&M)
and linebacker Leon Williams.
McAlister, an 11-year veteran and former first-round pick,
is the most intriguing because he played two games with the
Saints before being cut last week.
McAlister was signed by the Saints as a free agent Nov.
18. In his two games, he made four tackles. He also forced a
fumble and recovered it in the Saints’ overtime victory against
the Redskins. The 11-year veteran spent his previous 10 seasons
with the Baltimore Ravens.
- QB Tony Romo has played well in recent weeks, going a long
way toward dispelling the notion that he performs poorly in
December. He has a string of three straight games with over a 100
passer rating and three straight games without an interception,
dating back to Thanksgiving Day. But considering that the Cowboys
lost the last two games, it’s no consolation to Romo. Even though
his stats are better, the team is 0-2 in December this season and
he is now 5-10 in December games since 2006.
“It doesn’t matter,” Romo said. “It’s only about winning.
If I perform poorly this week and we win, it’s a lot better than
performing well and losing. This position is completely judged
almost solely on winning and losing. That’s the great thing about
this sport. We put so much stock in that. I enjoy that, too. It
should be that way.”
- LCB Jabari Greer won’t play against the Dallas Cowboys on
Saturday as he recovers from sports hernia surgery. He has missed
the last five games.
- DT Sedrick Ellis, who missed four games earlier this season
with a sprained right knee, did not work again Thursday and could
miss Saturday night’s game.
- TE Jeremy Shockey returned to practice on a limited basis
Thursday despite a left turf toe injury. His status for
Saturday’s game is unclear.
- RT Jon Stinchcomb was able to work limited Thursday after
missing Wednesday’s practice with a knee injury, but his status
for Saturday was unknown.
- DE Bobby McCray, who has battled a back problem for most of
the season, practiced limited on Thursday after sitting out
- K Garrett Hartley worked on a limited basis with a right hip
injury Thursday after being held out of Wednesday’s practice
- SLB Scott Fujita was limited again Thursday and may have a
shot at playing Saturday after missing the last two games
following surgery for a staph infection in his left knee on Dec.
- RCB Tracy Porter could play against the Cowboys after
practicing limited once again Thursday. He has missed the last
four games with a sprained MCL in his left knee.
- LB Marvin Mitchell, who has missed the last two games with a
hamstring injury, was limited in practice again Thursday.
- MLB Jonathan Vilma was limited again Thursday with a sore
knee but should be ready for the Cowboys.
- RB Pierre Thomas worked on a limited basis Thursday because
of a hip injury and his availability for Saturday was unknown.
- RG Jahri Evans, who has been bothered by a toe injury,
participated in Thursday’s practice and should play against the
- LG Carl Nicks was limited by a back injury again Thursday but
should be available Saturday night.
- C Jonathan Goodwin, who has been bothered by an ankle injury
most of the season, will play Saturday despite being limited
- T Jermon Bushrod worked limited Thursday with a thumb injury
and should play Saturday.
- FS Usama Young has a hip injury but practiced on a limited
Inside The Camps
Nobody is giving the Cowboys a chance against the Saints.
The bandwagon is empty.
The blue Kool-Aid is still on the shelf unopened.
The only people believing in the Cowboys now are the Cowboys
The players and coach Wade Phillips have likewise adopted an
us-against-the world mentality. They say they are ready for the
challenge of the undefeated Saints.
“Usually when people say you can’t do something, people bow
up that have a lot of pride,” Phillips said. I don’t think our
confidence is we can’t do it and we have to do something else to be
able to do it. We have confidence in our football team. We’re not
going to bow down to these guys. We think we can win. Every game
we’ve been in so far, we thought we could win. I think we feel the
same way going into this one.”
Although the Cowboys are riding a two-game losing streak and
are on the brink of being the odd team out of the playoff race,
Phillips said this is not a desperate team. He said the Cowboys
still control their own destiny and will play with a sense of
“I think we’re confident going into games, I don’t think
we’re desperate,” Phillips said. “I think we know how important the
games are and what it can do for us. We’re not in a desperation
mode. I think it’s urgent. We know that. I have no doubt our
players are going to give everything they can to win this game.
Don’t think that’s desperate though.”
Because the Minnesota Vikings are right behind them in the
race for home-field advantage in the NFC, the undefeated Saints
have had to keep the pedal to the metal longer than the unbeaten
Indianapolis Colts in the AFC.
The Saints (13-0) can’t afford to let up this week, either,
considering the Dallas Cowboys (8-5) will be desperate for a win to
keep their playoff hopes alive when they meet in the Superdome on
With the NFC South title and a first-round bye already
secured, the Saints could clinch home-field advantage this weekend
with a win against the Cowboys and a loss by the Vikings to the
If both those things were to happen, Saints coach Sean
Payton would have an interesting decision to make: to go all out
for the second 16-0 regular-season campaign in NFL history or rest
his players for a strong postseason push.
Already, Payton has told his team that he will get their
input on what course of action to take as the Saints try to get to
the Super Bowl for the first time.
“I think he’s phrased it this way: That decision is up to
the team,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “That’s something that we
will all talk about. Let’s hope that we have that conversation.”
But it’s already apparent that the Saints are ready to push
ahead and try to go 16-0 and join the 2007 New England Patriots as
the only teams to do that.
“You don’t have many opportunities like this, do you? It’s
something to consider,” Brees said, adding that many of his
teammates feel the same way. “That’s something we’ll talk about
inside our locker room, and then we’ll let you know.”
PREDICTION: Saints 27-24