New Orleans Saints vs Oakland Raiders Preview and Predictions

Another week in the books, and the Saints continue to cling to whatever playoff hopes remain.  I said earlier in the season that I thought 10 wins would be the minimum needed to have a shot at a wild card spot, and looking at it now it’s possible that that could become 11.  But still, the Saints have run off a 4-1 record after starting 0-4 and kept their hopes alive.  In all likelihood they’ll need to finish the rest of the season at least 6-1 to have any chance.

Encouraging for them is that they’re not far behind the other wild card contenders.  Barring a complete collapse by Atlanta (which would be sweet, unlikely as it may be), no one else is going to take the NFC South, but it’s a tight race for the wild card spots, and the Saints aren’t any more than two games behind the other contenders.  With a strong finish, they have a solid shot to sneak in.

But enough looking ahead, let’s focus on Sunday.  The Saints travel to Oakland, and while they better not take the Raiders lightly, this game will hopefully give them somewhat less of a challenge than they faced last week.

[caption id="attachment_498" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="The biggest thing the Saints need to worry about."][/caption]

Carson Palmer and his speedy receiver duo of Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey will challenge the Saints’ secondary, but they should be able to put more emphasis on stopping the pass with Darren McFadden (and backup Mike Goodson) still out for the Raiders.  The top healthy back on the team is Marcel Reece, who’s more of a fullback, as well as a bigger threat catching the ball than running it.  Reece must be accounted for, but he won’t give the Saints nearly the trouble that DMC would.  And with the Saints’ pass defense steadily improving the last few games, I think they’re primed to turn in their best defensive output of the year.

On the offensive side of the ball, look for more of what’s been working the last two weeks from the Saints.  Expect Mark Ingram and Chris Ivory to split the bulk of the carries, with Ingram perhaps getting a slightly larger workload.  Darren Sproles is currently called questionable for the game, but I think they try to keep him out of this one.

Look for Jimmy Graham to get a lot of work over the middle and have a good day (particularly if safety Tyvon Branch has to miss this game, having suffered a neck injury last Sunday and also currently being called questionable).  Finally, I’m feeling a big play touchdown to Devery Henderson.  Not sure why, just a hunch.

[caption id="attachment_497" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Is he due for a big one? I think he's due for a big one."][/caption]

Despite only having a record one game worse than the Saints, this is not a very good Oakland team.  While the Saints four losses were all one-possession games that the Saints very well could’ve won had one or two plays broken their way, the Raiders have been blown out on three occasions, and their three wins include an overtime victory against Jacksonville, and a competitive game against Kansas City (Yes, I know the Saints lost to Kansas City.  Shut up.).

With the toughest stretch of the year coming up (vs. San Francisco, a Thursday night rematch at Atlanta, at NY Giants, vs. Tampa Bay), the Saints really can’t afford to blow their one possibly-acceptable loss here.  I don’t think they do, and hopefully they can win this game comfortably enough that it allows them to catch something of a breather before heading into the big four weeks ahead.

Three Predictions for Sunday’s Game

Devery Henderson scores on a play of 30+ yards.

Either Mark Ingram or Chris Ivory will break 100 yards on the ground.

For the first time this season, the Saints hold an opponent to less than 400 total offensive yards.

Score Prediction

31-20, Saints.  They finally reach .500, and hope remains alive heading into the rematch from last year’s playoffs with the 49ers.

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