The New Orleans Saints are tied atop the NFC South, but their place in the division tells very little about their season. Their visit with the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 13 could show just how far one of the conference’s Super Bowl favorites to start the season has fallen.
Four wins in 11 games is all it’s taken for the Saints to share first place with the Atlanta Falcons. The combination of head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees has not looked like the perennial winner that it has been in recent seasons, though the team's been treated as such for much of the year.
Even last week, the Saints were three-point favorites over the visiting Baltimore Ravens. Following their third straight loss at home, New Orleans is getting 4.5 points in Pittsburgh, and the oddsmakers might be coming to the conclusion that the Saints are simply not a good team.
While New Orleans’ home-field advantage hasn’t existed in 2014, the Saints have been even worse on the road. They’ve gone 1-4 away from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, only beating the lowly Carolina Panthers. Things won’t get any easier against the 7-4 Steelers, whom the Saints have shown they might not be good enough to beat.
Despite having three more wins, Pittsburgh might need the win even more than New Orleans. The Steelers are a half-game out of first place in the AFC South, in which every team has seven wins.
In seven games against teams with winning records, the Saints have only one victory, beating the Green Bay Packers in New Orleans. The Steelers have wins against the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens and Indianapolis Colts, coming by an average of over 13 points per game.
The Saints have lost in several different ways this season. The team has fallen twice in overtime, and been beaten two other times in the final two minutes of regulation New Orleans’ turnover differential hasn’t helped, as they’re tied for 28th with nine more giveaways than takeaways.
The one common thread in all their losses has been poor defensive play. All seven opponents that have beaten the Saints have scored at least 24 points against the team that ranks 25th in points allowed. That doesn’t bode well for Week 13, when they’ll take on one of the league’s best offenses.
Pittsburgh has scored 13 points or fewer in three of their four losses, but they aren’t likely to have much trouble moving the ball on Sunday. Ben Roethlisberger could put up big numbers against the NFL’s No.23 pass defense. The quarterback ranks in the top five in passing yards, touchdowns, completion percentage, and passer rating. Roethlisberger has already taken advantage of the No. 26, 27, 29 and 31 pass defenses, posting a passer rating of at least 103.1 against all four opponents.
Sunday’s over/under is 53.5 points. The total in all but one Pittsburgh wins has reached at least 51 points.
Coming off a bye could give Pittsburgh another advantage. Mike Tomlin’s team has won six consecutive games when having more than a week between contests.
New Orleans isn’t a pushover, and has kept most of their losses close. Drew Brees and Co. are still averaging 26.2 points per game, and they rank third in passing yards. However, Brees has made some costly mistakes in 2014, throwing 11 interceptions, just one shy of his total from last season.
PREDICTION: Pittsburgh over New Orleans, 34-24