The New Orleans Saints, coming off a heart-breaking loss to their arch-rivals the Atlanta Falcons last Thursday Night, return home this coming Sunday to face the New York Jets, in a late-season game that has now taken on added importance for the Black and Gold.
The Saints (9-4) have dropped back into a tie with Carolina (also 9-4) for 1st place in the NFC South Division, although New Orleans owns the tie-breaker over them since they've swept the Panthers; so if both teams manage to "win out" and each finish at (12-4), the Saints will still win the NFC South Division title.
However, it's important to note: the Saints will more than likely HAVE TO win at least 2 of their last 3 games, just to be sure that they actually even make the Playoffs now, at this point — which makes this coming Sunday's game against (5-8) New York all the more critical for New Orleans to get a victory in.
With that in mind, here are the Saints News Network's 5 "bold predictions" for Sunday's now suddenly crucial match-up for the Saints vs. the visiting Jets.....
5. WITH THE PRO BOWL VOTING PERIOD JUST ENDED, SAINTS DEFENSIVE END CAM JORDAN HAS A "MONSTER" GAME, INCLUDING 3 SACKS OF JETS QUARTERBACK BRYCE PETTY
Saints defensive end Cam Jordan has had a phenomenal 2017 season so far, and leads the team in sacks (10.5) and tackles for loss (13), and the 7 passes he's batted down is the most of any NFL player among the top 25 in sacks.
He even ranks third on the team with 54 total tackles, a feat usually accomplished by a speedy linebacker instead of a 6-foot-4 inch, 287 pound defensive lineman.
Jordan's been so good this season that his Saints teammates believe he should win the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year award; and it's likely why with the voting for next month's Pro Bowl in Orlando coming to an official end tomorrow, that Jordan is expected to be one of the Saints selections for that game.
Jordan will state his case loudly for a spot in the Pro Bowl with this Sunday's game in the Superdome against New York; as he feasts on an a Jets O-Line that has yielded 39 sacks this year and sacks QB Bryce Petty 3 times, along with another 3 QB "hits", 4 QB "pressures", and a tackle for loss in what can only be described as a "monster" performance.
4. THE SAINTS SPECIAL TEAMS ARE FINALLY "SPECIAL" IN THE RETURN GAME, AS WIDE RECEIVER / KICK RETURNER TOMMYLEE LEWIS TAKES A PUNT RETURN "TO THE HOUSE" — FOR THE FIRST SAINTS KICK OR PUNT RETURN TOUCHDOWN SINCE 2015
Coming into this game, the (5-8) Jets have struggled on special teams this year, which outside of the kicking game featuring outstanding punter Thomas Morstead and kicker Wil Lutz, is something that the Saints themselves can certainly relate to.
Canal Street Chronicles featured writer Bob Rose noted the other day that the Saints kick coverage and return units have been nothing short of an absolute joke this year at times; as New Orleans has averaged a paltry 6.1 yards per punt return, and just 20 yards per kickoff return.
Even worse: the coverage units have surrendered 11 yards per punt return and 26 yards per kickoff return, and have allowed eight returns of at least 30 yards or better, including one punt return score.
It's one of the reasons why the Saints went out and lured former Jets special teams "guru" Mike Westhoff out of retirement (with the promise being that he'll have a shot at winning the Super Bowl with New Orleans), and against his former team, Westhoff will get a moment he'll never forget in this game on Sunday.
The Jets coverage units on both sides of the return game rank among the bottom 12 in the NFL and haven't ever quite been the same since Westhoff left them, and it will show against the Saints early in the 2nd quarter.
Standing back inside of his own 20 yard line awaiting a punt from New York punter Lachlan Edwards, Saints wide receiver TommlyLee Lewis against better judgement, decides to field the punt instead of making the fair catch; and after what initially looks like will be a bad decision, Lewis breaks 2 tackles before he gets a great block along the Saints sidelines from special teams ace Justin Hardee, and then runs into the clear — and takes it "all the way to the house" for an 87-yard punt return TD.
It ends up being the first Saints kick or punt return for a TD since September of 2015, when Marcus Murphy returned a punt 74 yards for a TD in a Week #3 contest at Carolina.
3. LED BY CORNERBACKS MARSHON LATTIMORE AND KEN CRAWLEY, THE SAINTS PASS DEFENSE GROUNDS THE JETS PASSING ATTACK
With the return of Marshon Lattimore last week against the Falcons, the Saints secondary had one of its better performances of the season last week despite the circumstances surrounding that heart-breaking (and controversial) loss; as the sensational rookie "locked down" Falcons star WR Julio Jones.
Lattimore (who criticized his own performance afterwards) had an interception while covering Jones late in the 2nd quarter, and held him to 5 catches for 98 yards. While those numbers might not indicate a "lock down" performance, make no mistake about it: with Lattimore back in the line-up opposite of #2 CB Ken Crawley, the two are one of the most impressive young CB tandems in the entire League.
In this game the Saints secondary will have a solid performance despite yielding a long TD on a blown coverage (more on that in a moment), as they get to face back-up Jets QB Bryce Petty, who will start in the place of injured QB Josh McCown; whom New York lost to a season-ending injury with a broken hand.
Petty, a 3rd year veteran from Baylor University, completed just 56.4 percent of his passes as New York's primary back-up QB last season, and he was 2-of-9 last Sunday against Denver in the Jets' 23-0 loss to the Broncos after McCown went down.
And he won't fare much better in this game, as the Saints pass defense — led by interceptions each from Lattimore and Crawley — ground Petty and the Jets passing attack after yielding an early score.
2. SAINTS RUNNING BACK ALVIN KAMARA RETURNS TO THE STARTING LINE-UP FOLLOWING LAST WEEK'S CONCUSSION AND TALLIES OVER 100 ALL-PURPOSE YARDS AND 2 TD's
As most Saints fans are aware: Kamara is expected to play in this game on Sunday, after he left the game against the Falcons last week following a somewhat controversial helmet-to-helmet tackle by Falcons linebacker Deion Jones on a screen pass.
He was evaluated by trainers on the sideline before being taken back to the locker room for further evaluation and ultimately ruled out of the game. Without Kamara in the line-up, the Saints offense CLEARLY struggled at times as they missed the added dimension that he brings to their scheme, specifically in the short-passing game out of the backfield.
They'll be glad to have him back in this contest for the Jets, and the rookie sensation and leading candidate for the 2017 NFL Rookie of the Year award will pick up right where he left off prior to the injury he suffered at Atlanta.
Kamara will gain 77 yards on 11 carries which will include a 22-yard TD run midway through the 1st quarter; and then will tally an additional 56 yards on 5 receptions along with a 13-yard receiving TD early in the 4th quarter, as the former University of Tennessee star puts up another 100-plus yards all-purpose performance on his Rookie of the Year resume'.
1. THANKS TO A LONG TOUCHDOWN CATCH BY WIDE RECEIVER ROBBY ANDERSON, THE JETS SURPRISINGLY TAKE AN EARLY LEAD — UNTIL A SAINTS TEAM STILL ANGRY ABOUT HOW THEY LOST LAST WEEK AT ATLANTA, GETS FOCUSED AND "LAYS THE SMACK DOWN"
The Saints have been through a proverbial "roller coaster" of emotions in the past week, as the team tries to sort through the events that transpired in the controversial loss to the Falcons.
It was a heart-breaking loss to be sure — and one very reminiscent of the way that the Saints franchise has agonizingly lost games throughout their 51-year history, some of which have been very well documented over that time.
However, one would still imagine that the Saints should be well-prepared to play the Jets after having had over a whole week to game-plan for them; and also should be highly motivated to win this game. Despite all of the crazy circumstances surrounding the loss at Atlanta, the Saints still need to go out in this game on Sunday against the Jets and GET THE JOB DONE.
A loss to the Jets at home next week after losing to Atlanta in the manner that they did a couple of days ago, would be a potentially devastating blow to their Playoff hopes and could even RUIN their entire season.
And with the Falcons up next at home once again in only a week and a half from now, it would be easy to look ahead to that game instead and overlook this Jets team — especially after New York was just shut out at Denver in one of their worst performances of the season and lost their starting QB for the remainder of the season.
True to form if you're an older Saints fan and have watched the team for many, many years, the Saints will come out in this game and look as if they're still a bit "shell-shocked" from the loss at Atlanta; as the Jets get an early 72-yard touchdown on a pass from Petty to 2nd year star WR Robby Anderson, who gets wide open in the Saints secondary on yet another blown coverage similar to some of the ones we've seen the defense give up this year despite their otherwise solid season.
Unfortunately for New York, that's all they'll get as far as a "highlight" from this contest.
After yielding that early score, the Jets will have the Saints' FULL attention; and an angry Saints team after an ass-chewing on the sidelines from a VISIBLY UPSET Sean Payton, responds by completely taking over the game on both sides of the football.
New Orleans will go on to score 28 unanswered points after New York's initial score to open the game, and thoroughly dominate the Jets in all aspects (offense, defense, and special teams).
They'll then gradually "lay the smackdown" on the visitors from the Big Apple, as they take out their frustrations of the past week in anticipation of the rematch that looms ahead, in the upcoming week afterwards.