The Saints' 5-0 start combined with the return of Sean Payton and masterful defensive turnaround under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan seems to easily bring back memories of the 2009 Super Bowl season and the way the Saints raced out of the gates four years ago. Defeating the New England Patriots and going 6-0 will be a tall order, but it's not like the Saints have had an easy schedule so far. Still, I expect facing the Patriots on the road will be their toughest test to date.
After dropping their first game of the season to the Bengals last week 13-6, I am confident Patriots coach Bill Belichick will have his team focused and prepared to play the Saints. Media reports also indicate that Tom Brady's favorite weapon tight end Rob Gronkowski might return. While I don't expect Gronkowski to match the production of Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, his presence must still be accounted for as I'm sure his return will provide the Patriots an extra motivational boost.
Sunday's match up in Foxboro is clearly the NFL Game of the Week. Despite its showcase attraction featuring two of the NFL's best quarterbacks going against each other in Brady and Drew Brees, early season indications are that it will be a low to mid range scoring affair. Neither team has exactly been lighting up the scoreboard. The Saints are averaging 26.8 points per game while the Patriots are averaging 19. While those numbers may be impressive for some teams, not for the Patriots and Saints.
Gronkowski's absence, Aaron Hernandez's arrest for murder and Wes Welker's departure to Denver has depleted Brady of his main targets from 2012. As far as the Saints shortcomings, the blocking and protection on the offensive line has been shaky at times. A subpar rushing attack also seems to prevent the passing game from opening up more and limiting touchdown efficiency in the red zone. Yet, I will still take 5-0 and accept a few more Garrett Hartley field goals instead of touchdowns as a consequence.
It may be best over the course of the season for the Saints to lose a game here and there so they won't feel so much pressure come playoff time, but I'm not objective enough to pick against them.
Prediction: Saints 24 - Patriots 21.
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