For the New Orleans Saints this Sunday at New Era Field in Buffalo, coming away with a "W" and extending their winning streak to 7 straight games will be the biggest challenge that they've had to face so far this season.
As they they attempt to do so, what could potentially be the difference-maker in determining whether or not the Saints can actually meet that challenge is actually a quite simple concept; although it's a concept that they've struggled with recently: hanging on to the football.
In the 2017 season so far, New Orleans has committed nine turnovers — all coming in its last four games.
And yet despite those turnovers, the Saints have been fortunate enough to win every one of those games, thanks to the outstanding play of their suddenly resurgent defense.
However, with having to face a tough Bills team that's undefeated at home in this Sunday's contest; the chances that the Saints would be able to survive turning the ball over in this contest and still be able to come away with a win yet again, would seem remote at best.
And that's because the Bills have been tremendous at forcing turnovers.
Buffalo currently has an incredible +11 turnover ratio, the best difference in the league. The Bills' 17 takeaways (11 interceptions, six fumbles) rank second in the league.
The Bills, however, have actually struggled themselves whenever they've been unable to force turnovers, as in last Thursday Night a week ago (Week #9) at Met Life Stadium in New York against the Jets.
In that contest, the Bills defense didn’t force any turnovers and had arguably its worst defensive game of the season, as they were beaten by the Jets by a score of 34-21 though the game was really much more lopsided than the final score indicated.
The Bills no doubt will come into this game on Sunday looking for redemption, and they know that one way to do that will be forcing the Saints offense to commit some unwanted mistakes.
They'll certainly look to go "full force" in attempting to stop the Saints RB tandem of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, though both Saints RB's have had trouble hanging on to the football in recent weeks.
Ingram, who was benched last year due to fumbling issues, fumbled twice late in the game in the 20-12 win over the Chicago 2 weeks ago, which allowed the Bears to remain alive up until the game's final minute. As a result, Ingram was subsequently benched for a remainder of that contest as a result.
Kamara himself got lucky in that same game, having a called fumble overturned. But then last week in the 30-10 win over the Buccaneers, he lost another fumble; though he eventually was able to redeem himself with a 152 all-purpose yards performance with 2 TD's to lead the Saints to victory.
Make no mistake: with Ingram and Kamara, the Saints might have THE BEST running back tandem in the entire NFL — and though New Orleans wouldn't certainly trade them for any other tandem that's currently in the League right now, they simply have to protect the football better if they wish to remain successful going forward.
One other way that the opportunistic Bills defense will look to beat the Saints will be getting pressure on Saints QB Drew Brees.
Brees has played well this season at the age of 38; and has completed 175 of 248 passes for 1951 yards. That’s 271 yards per contest, which is also the 4th-highest in the NFL.
But in order to stop Brees from essentially "slicing and dicing" a Bills pass defense that has allowed over 300 passing yards in three consecutive games, Buffalo knows that it must try to get one or two interceptions against Brees, who rarely turns the ball over.
Brees has thrown only four interceptions all year and hasn’t thrown a pick since Week #7, which ironically came on the road (at Green Bay).
The Bills defense only allowed 1 passing touchdown over their first 4 games, but have allowed 6 passing touchdowns in their last 4 contests.
If they hope to avoid a similar fate this Sunday against the Saints, then they most definitely will be seeking to pressure Brees into as many mistakes as they possibly can.
The strength of 1st year Bills head coach Sean McDermott's team this year in his first season on the job is in his defensive secondary.
While the team's pass rush has been slightly average (only 3 sacks in their last 4 games, bringing their season total to 14), it's the Bills secondary that has "shouldered the load".
Buffalo is second in the NFL in interceptions, trailing only the Baltimore Ravens on the season.
Micah Hyde, Buffalo’s starting free safety, leads the NFL with 5 picks on the season; and the Bills secondary is responsible for making 10 of the team’s 11 interceptions.
As it is, McDermott knows the Saints' offense very well, thanks to his time spent facing the Saints each year in the NFC South Division as the former defensive coordinator with the Panthers.
The Panthers were 7-5 against the Saints during McDermott's time in Charlotte; and Carolina won three of the last four match-ups against the Saints before McDermott became Buffalo's head coach.
While he definitely knows that stopping the Saints from moving the ball is pretty much next to impossible, McDermott will have to rely on his knowledge of New Orleans' offense to prevent them from putting up too many points.
And one easy way to do that of course?
Make the Saints give up a few turnovers, especially in key situations throughout the game.
If the Saints hope to come out of this game with a 7th straight win, then the task is a simple one for New Orleans:
HOLD ON to the the football...............