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Thursday 9 February 2023 Dublin: 2°C
INPHO/Billy Stickland New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the New York Giants on Monday.
# Gridiron
The Redzone: The Saints go marching on
Steven O’Rourke holds his hands up and admits – like George W Bush – he was wrong about New Orleans.
WITH THE PACKERS at 11-0, most analysts have them Super Bowl bound already. However, the New Orleans Saints have reached 8-3 without much fuss and Steven O’Rourke thinks it’s time to admit he was wrong.

Detroit Lions (7-4) @ New Orleans Saints (8-3)

Before the season started, I made the rather bold prediction that the 2009 Super Bowl winning New Orleans Saints would not make the playoffs this year.

The reason was simple, having crunched the numbers, I expected both the Falcons and Buccaneers to have better seasons than the Saints.

However, with Tampa not putting in the kind of season I expected, the Saints have taken advantage to sit atop the NFC South.

Even better, with the San Francisco 49ers stuttering, few would bet against the Saints making their way into the number two spot in the NFC and avoiding any chance of last year’s embarrassing wildcard loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

Drew Brees is close to having the best season of his 10-year career, completing 323 of 460 passes (70.2%) for 3,689 yards and finding the endzone 27 times through the air and once on his feet.

Remarkably, the Saints QB has yet to give up a fumble this year. He does, however, have 11 interceptions on the season including two in the shock 31-21 defeat to the St Louis Rams in week eight.

And it’s that ability to lose to teams that, frankly, shouldn’t be within 21 points of them, that consistently worries me about the Saints and should see them push extra hard from here on in to avoid wildcard weekend.

They can start that push this weekend, when Brees will face a depleted Lions team coached by Jim Schwartz. Schwartz worked under Saints defensive co-ordinator Gregg Williams when Williams held the same position with the Tennessee Titans.

Both Williams and Schwartz like aggressive, pass-rushing defences and this game could see a huge number of quarterback sacks and backfield tackles.

However, the Lions will be missing one of their main weapons as Ndamukong Suh serves the first of a two game suspension for his ill-advised stamp on Green Bay Packers lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith’s arm.

Replacing the precocious talent that is Suh will be difficult but, if anyone can do it, it is rookie Nick Fairley, the first round pick from Auburn.

Fairley has a lot to prove having missed most of his debut season through injury. However, shutting down the league’s top offence might be expecting too much.

Verdict: If Brees doesn’t beat you through the air, Ingram, Thomas and Sproles will on the ground. Suh’s stamp could prove very costly indeed. Saints by 10+

Atlanta Falcons (7-4) @ Houston Texans (8-3)

Despite the exploits of the New Orleans offence, the Atlanta Falcons remain just one game behind in the race for the NFC South and this weekend they travel to a Texans outfit plagued by quarterback trouble.

TJ Yates takes the reins this weekend for the Texans. However, I don’t expect Yates to throw the ball very often as Houston has possibly the best running back combination in the league with Arian Foster and Ben Tate.

The Falcons will look to take advantage of this expected one-sided game plan by stacking the box and playing man coverage on the receivers. However, they need to be wary of the fit again Andre Johnson who only needs one opportunity to burn you for a big play.

Verdict: There are many who argue that the Texans are lucky they are in such a weak division. However, 8-3 is not to be sniffed at and I expect another win here to keep them on course for their first ever playoff appearance. Texans by 6+

Cincinnati Bengals (7-4) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (8-3)

There is huge amount at stake in this AFC North match-up. Aside from divisional rivalry, both teams know a win not only keeps them in the hunt for an AFC wildcard spot but also hot on the heels of divisional leaders Baltimore.

The Bengals have surprised everyone (especially me) this season and Andy Dalton looks like the pick of this year’s rookie quarterbacks. His maturity and ability to make the right decisions, not to mention his formidable partnership with fellow rookie AJ Green, has set the cat amongst the, eh, Ravens and Steelers.

With all the furore surrounding Jay Cutler’s thumb, the Steelers swore that Ben Roethlisberger’s own digit injury was not as serious. However, the QB averaged just 6.2 yards a pass in last week’s narrow win over the Kansas City Chiefs, compared to his season average of eight yards.

Verdict: You know what, I see an upset here. The Bengals ran the Steelers close in week ten and that was without AJ Green for most of the game. Change is afoot in the AFC North. Bengals by 6+

All fixtures and predictions:

  • Philadelphia Eagles @ Seattle Seahawks – Eagles
  • Denver Broncos @ Minnesota Vikings – Broncos
  • Indianapolis Colts @ New England Patriots – Patriots
  • Tennessee Titans @ Buffalo Bills – Titans
  • Kansas City Chiefs @ Chicago Bears – Bears
  • Oakland Raiders @ Miami Dolphins – Raiders
  • Carolina Panthers @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Buccaneers
  • New York Jets @ Washington Redskins – Redskins
  • Atlanta Falcons @ Houston Texans – Texans
  • Cincinnati Bengals @ Pittsburgh Steelers – Bengals
  • Baltimore Ravens @ Cleveland Browns – Browns
  • Green Bay Packers @ New York Giants  - Packers
  • Dallas Cowboys @ Arizona Cardinals – Cowboys
  • St Louis Rams @ San Francisco 49ers – 49ers
  • Detroit Lions @ New Orleans Saints – Saints
  • San Diego Chargers @ Jacksonville Jaguars – Chargers

Steven O’Rourke is the Offensive Co-ordinator of Tullamore Phoenix American Football Club, winners of the IAFL DV8s national title in 2010 and 2011. Tullamore are always recruiting new players so, if you’d like to play football and not just read about it, Steven would love to hear from you.

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