DALLAS vs. NEW ORLEANS
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m., Mercedes-Benz Superdome
TV: 7:15 p.m., NBC
Radio: 4:30 p.m., 105.3 The Fan
Records: Dallas 5-4, New Orleans 6-2
Series: Dallas leads, 15-10
Last meeting: New Orleans, 34-31 in OT (2012, in Dallas)
Betting line: Dallas -10
Weather: 75 degrees, 20% chance of rain
In the NFL, a win is a win and that is what needs to be said of last week's 27-23 victory over the lowly Vikings. As I write this, I still go back to the Detroit game and think 'What Could Have Been?' The difference between 5-4 and 6-3 is huge, especially in the NFC East. Alas, we must turn our attention to the difficult challenge the Cowboys have this week against the 6-2 Saints. Let's see how these two teams match up:
Dallas offense vs. New Orleans defense
Jason Garrett talked at length after the Minnesota game about the lack of balance in the offense and suggested that the fourth quarter had something to do with it, but Fox showed a graphic in the first half that highlighted the fact that there were 23 pass plays to five running plays! I'm to the point where I can't say any more about the lack of balance and how it hurts Romo, and I can only assume that Garrett and offensive coordinator Bill Callahan felt they couldn't be successful with the run against the Vikings' front seven (though the Cowboys did have four yards per carry for the game). At this point in the season, the running game is nonexistent and once again, the Cowboys will live and die with all the pressure on Romo.
Rob Ryan will need no extra motivation for this game after being fired by the Cowboys last offseason. I'm sure it gives him solace that his defense is in the top 10 of the NFL in yards allowed per game while Dallas is the 31st ranked defense (only .1 yards per game ahead of Philadelphia). The Saints' defense is successful at stopping the passing game, which is the Cowboys' bread and butter and should make for a great matchup this Sunday night. Dez Bryant is not likely to be at 100 percent and the offense struggles away from home.
Edge: NEW ORLEANS
Dallas defense vs. New Orleans offense
How does a depleted Dallas defense stop a New Orleans offense ranked seventh in the NFL at home? The easy answer is they don't. Dallas does have DeMarcus Ware back, as he has been practicing this week. He will be a welcome sight for a defense that allowed almost 400 yards of offense to Minnesota last week.
The weapons New Orleans has on offense are numerous beyond Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham: Darren Sproles, Kenny Stills, Lance Moore, Robert Meachem and Pierre Thomas. The notable absence is Marques Colston who has been battling an injury all season, but was at practice on a limited basis this week.
The Cowboys did the unthinkable last week which was make Vikings QB Christian Ponder look like a legitimate NFL quarterback. Drew Brees must be salivating for his chance to perform against this defense.
Edge: NEW ORLEANS
Drew Brees vs. Dallas secondary: Cowboys CB Orlando Scandrick is coming off a week where he had five tackles, four pass breakups and one interception so naturally he is confident in his defense:
'I don't give a damn about yards, my confidence is high,' Scandrick said. 'I'm confident in my abilities and I know the rest of the guys are. Brandon Carr is a helluva corner and I don't think his confidence waivers at all.'
Let's see how far that confidence gets him in the Superdome on Sunday night. If Dallas is going to pull off the upset, this defense needs to cause at least two turnovers and subsequently, the offense needs to turn those into points. Brees was picked off twice last week against the Jets and has seven interceptions on the season. That being said, Brees leads the NFC in touchdowns with 21 and is fourth in the NFL in QB rating at 104.
Edge: NEW ORLEANS
Darren Sproles is a veteran return man, but he's been mediocre this season at kick returns (21.2 avg.) and punt returns (7.8 avg.) for the Saints. Southlake Carroll product Garrett Hartley has missed five field goals this season after only missing four all of last season.
The Cowboys' Dwayne Harris is one of the best return men in the game with his 34.9 kickoff return average and his 15.1 punt return average. Dan Bailey has gone 5-5 in the last two games on field goal kicks.
In last week's game, Minnesota's Blair Walsh missed a crucial extra point that changed the dynamic of the game. Never underestimate the importance of special teams in a ballgame.
The Saints are 4-0 at home this season while the Cowboys are 1-3 on the road with their lone win against an injury-riddled Philly offense. The game will be on national television and in front of a large crowd at the Superdome. The NBC crew will focus on the Drew Brees vs. Tony Romo narrative all night long. I'll set the over/under on Tony Romo fourth quarter comments at 20 for the game. Can Romo have enough fourth quarter magic two weeks in a row or will the New Orleans voodoo sabotage his plans?
Edge: NEW ORLEANS
Did You Know?
The last time Dallas was in New Orleans, the Cowboys won 24-17 on December 19, 2009. In that game, Romo threw for more than 300 yards and had a touchdown pass to Miles Austin. Mike Jenkins picked off Drew Brees who threw for 298 yards and was sacked four times. The game was 24-3 in Dallas' favor going into the fourth quarter.
The More You Know...
Prediction: New Orleans 30, Dallas 21
Eddie Middlebrook is the co-host of 'Chin Music' and VP of Media for ShutDowninning. He can be reached at Eddie.Middlebrook@ShutDowninning.comor on Twitter@emiddlebrook