The New Orleans Saints — fresh of their 7th straight win in a row yesterday over the previously unbeaten Los Angeles Rams — will be seeking their 8th win a row when they travel to the Midwestern part of the nation and specifically south-central Ohio this upcoming Sunday afternoon, to visit the (5-3) Cincinnati Bengals.
The Saints haven't lost yet on the road this season thus far (4-0), having won games at Atlanta, New York City, Baltimore, and Minnesota.
They'll be facing a rather inconsistent Bengals team that's coming off their Bye Week after having narrowly escaped with a 37-34 escape win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers two Sundays ago (their first win in the team’s last three games).
Nevertheless, the Bengals home stadium (Paul Brown Stadium, named for the team's founder) is one of the tougher road venues in the entire sport of Pro Football; and New Orleans will no doubt be challenged yet again by another team with a winning record capable of pulling off an "upset" of the red-hot Saints squad.
As noted by ESPN Bengals beat writer Katherine Terrell: the Saints could find themselves with a slight advantage in next Sunday's contest, due to the recent injury suffered by their perennial All-Pro WR AJ Green.
Terrell says that the Bengals are crossing their fingers that surgery won't be necessary for Green after he suffered a toe injury during their game against the Buccaneers a week ago.
Green is scheduled to meet with Dr. Robert Anderson some time this week (possibly as early as today) to diagnose his injury and determine whether surgery is needed.
Green didn't seem initially concerned right after the game last week; and he told Terrell and the other reporters that cover the Bengals, that he simply jammed his toe. "The toe is fine," he said before walking out of the locker room a few minutes later laughing and joking with his teammates.
Nevertheless: Terrell says that despite his positive attitude, Green was seen wearing a walking boot on his right foot the next day, and he still currently remains in one now as of this very moment.
Green made an 11-yard catch over the middle with 17 seconds left in a tie game against the Bucs, but then limped off and pointed to his toe. He took his shoe off as soon as he got to the sidelines and athletic trainers came over to talk to him.
Terrell makes the observation that Cincinnati ultimately won the game against Tampa on a field goal two plays later, so it's unclear whether Green could've come back in if the game had it gone to overtime.
The Bengals' current leader in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, Terrell adds that losing him for any amount of time would be a huge blow to an offense that was already without several key players including starting TE Tyler Eifert and back-up TE Tyler Kroft, RB Giovani Bernard, speedy WR John Ross, edge pass rusher / defensive end Carl Lawson, and offensive lineman Billy Price.
The #Bengals promoted WR Auden Tate off the practice squad to the 53-man roster as they await word on AJ Green’s toe. They also placed LB Carl Lawson on Injured Reserve.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) November 5, 2018
With most of those players now on injured reserve, the Bengals can ill-afford to lose Green for a drive, let alone a game or more; and especially against a team that's as good as the Saints are.
The Bengals will likely have veteran QB Andy Dalton (21 TD passes with 8 interceptions for 2,102 yards and a 92.9 QBR) compensate for the loss of Green by spreading the ball around to a variety of capable back-up receivers in Green's expected absence, which undoubtedly will be heavily aided by the play of talented RB Joe Mixon.
Cincinnati ran the ball effectively against the Buccaneers, especially in the 1st half of that contest when they Mixon was given the ball regularly on a handful of carries.
And while the run game struggled at times for the Bengals in that game a week ago, when ever their O-Line was able to block well, the numbers in the running game did see a dramatic increase.
The speedy Mixon is certainly a very dangerous player out on the edge; and it will be interesting to see whether or not the Bengals and offensive coodinator Bill Lazor will decide to even line him up at wide receiver; in a concerted effort to keep the Saints defense off-balance and get him the ball on some "jet sweeps" and a few other plays that could leave New Orleans somewhat vulnerable.
On the season thus far through the first 8 games, Mixon has carried the ball 105 times for 509 yards (an average of 4.8 yards per carry) and 4 TD's; and additionally has caught 19 receptions out of the backfield for another 115 yards and a touchdown.
And even though the Saints boast the League's #1-ranked run defense at the moment, it would very likely come as a surprise if Cincinnati still didn't try to do some damage to the Saints defense by running Mixon right at New Orleans early and often.
On the opposite side of the football. expect Saints head coach Sean Payton to do essentially the same to the Bengals defense; which defense hasn’t been very good this season.
Some observers feel that Cincinnati has one of the worst defenses in the entire NFL; although well-respected Bengals defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has defended his unit’s performance by looking at the team’s "winning" (5-3) record.
"Count the W's and the L's (wins and losses). That's the only stat at the end of the year that counts. That's all I care about. And getting turnovers", Austin told reporters last week.
#Bengals defensive coordinator Teryl Austin on all the stats and records showing how historically bad the #Bengals D has been:
"Count the Ws and the Ls. That's the only stat at the end of the year that counts. That's all I care about. And getting turnovers."
— Jay Morrison (@JayMorrisonATH) October 29, 2018
Bengals defense last two weeks: 79 points allowed, 1,127 yards allowed. https://t.co/bWrQtUyAg4
— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) October 28, 2018
Unfortunately for Austin, the Bengals defense has yielded 79 points and 1127 yards just in their past 2 games alone; which doesn't bode very well against a Saints offense that's capable of blowing another team out considering how well they've playing recently.
Through 8 weeks of the 2018 NFL Regular Season, the Bengals are 29th in scoring defense, 26th against the run and currently are ranked dead last against the pass and in total yards allowed per game.
It goes without saying: that won't be the most advantageous situation for Austin and the Bengals defense to find themselves in against the overwhelming capabilities of the Saints offensive attack.
Bottom line: the game at Cincinnati is a very winnable one, and one that New Orleans will likely find themselves as a slight road favorite; even despite the Bengals' noted prowess when ever they play at home.
And it's for all of those very notable reasons that when the Saints travel up to the Midwest this upcoming Sunday, the chances of them coming away with an 8th straight win and remaining unbeaten on the road this season, would seem to be very favorable indeed....