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.
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 themselves.
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 urgency.
"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 Saturday night.
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 Carolina Panthers.
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