Week 13 of the NFL season begins with a Thursday night battle between two NFC foes as the New Orleans Saints host the Dallas Cowboys. The last three meetings between these teams have all been decided by one score, including a 12-10 Saints win in New Orleans two years ago. More recently, both teams have fallen on hard times and are in need of a win. Early in the week, the Cowboys are listed as five-point favorites with an over/under of 47.5 points.
After winning six straight games earlier this season, the Cowboys have hit a rough patch over the last month, losing three of four games. Oddly enough, all three losses have come against teams from the AFC West, canceling out a blowout win over the Falcons during that stretch. Fortunately for Dallas, the rest of the NFC East remains a train wreck. Despite losing three of four, the Cowboys remain 2.5 games ahead of the second-place Eagles, giving them a little margin for error as they try to get going down the stretch.
It’s a little puzzling that the Cowboys found a way to win a game without Dak Prescott earlier this year but are 1-3 since he returned from that injury. The Dallas offense was completely inept in two of those four games despite such a promising start to the season. To be fair, the Cowboys had over 400 yards of offense against the Raiders last week and shouldn’t be blamed for the loss after scoring 33 points. Prescott played one of his better games of the season despite the Cowboys failing to establish much of a running game. But Prescott will have to build on that because he’s had some uneven performances over the last month. Of course, it could help with Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb potentially returning to the lineup after missing last week’s game.
On the other side of the ball, the Dallas defense is looking like a problem after last week’s loss to the Raiders. While the Las Vegas offense has looked somewhat limited in recent weeks, the Cowboys didn’t seem to have an answer for them. It was a dreadful performance by the Dallas defense, especially at home. The Cowboys can play better and have talent at all three levels. But the pass rush outside of rookie Micah Parsons has been limited, especially with Randy Gregory missing the last three games. That has made the Dallas secondary a little more vulnerable despite the Cowboys having success this season at creating takeaways.
Everything seems to be falling apart for the Saints right now amidst a sea of injuries. Since losing Jameis Winston in that surprising win over the Bucs, New Orleans has lost four games in a row while also losing far more players than Winston to injury. If it matters, two of those four losses were close games, but a 31-6 loss to the Bills at home on Thanksgiving might be a low point for New Orleans this year. The Saints are now 5-6 yet technically tied for the final playoff spot in the NFC.
Not only is New Orleans having to play with backup Trevor Siemian at quarterback but Alvin Kamara has also missed three straight games due to injury. Kamara has been the focal point of the New Orleans offense for most of the season, so it’s not a surprise to see the Saints lose without him. Keep in mind that Michael Thomas has missed the entire season as well, so they are already piecing things together with younger players at wide receiver. Last but not least, Andrus Peat and Ryan Ramczyk are currently hurt on a banged-up offensive line, which explains why the Saints had just six points and 190 total yards in last week’s loss.
If there’s a silver lining, it’s that the Saints still have plenty of talent on defense. But things have started to fall apart because of injuries on that side of the ball too. The defensive line, in particular, has been hit hard by the injury bug. For the most part, a talented New Orleans secondary remains intact, giving the Saints some hope to defend the pass. However, Marcus Davenport, who leads the team in sacks, is currently out, further weakening a pass rush that has been average at best for most of the season. That leaves it up to the secondary, which has been good about creating takeaways this year, to carry the defense.
Desperation is surely starting to sink in for the Saints, which could play to their favor on Thursday. The Cowboys are hitting the road as a vulnerable team, losing three of their last four games. Not only has Prescott been up and down lately but the Cowboys can be overly reliant on him, which was the case last week. Against a good New Orleans secondary, the Saints should have a chance to keep this game close, especially if they can get the offense going a little more.
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