The 8-6 Cowboys are in a three-way tie atop the NFC East, with only a very thin line between division title/playoff berth and singing the multiple team tiebreaker blues for New Year's.
The 6-8 Saints are clinging to the faintest of playoff hopes and are in need of some pretty extreme help from a number of unlikely sources to stay alive.
How this game turns out is anyone's guess at this point, but I'm here to tell you exactly what needs to happen for a Saints win. That's right, it's time for your greatest gift of all this holiday season, HansDat's Hot Reads.
** After you read the Reads and let us know what you think about them, let's make this thread our pre-pre-pre-game Open Thread by also discussing our gameday plans for gear, food, drink, and viewing setup. **
Saints vs Cowboys coverage
'Tis better to receive than to give. We all know that Drew Brees is tied for the league lead in interceptions with 18, but do you know that Tony Romo is not far behind with 16 of his own? For this reason, I'm picking the Saints to pick on Romo for more interceptions than the slim pickings Brees will offer the Dallas defense.
What I'd Like To See: Romo join Drew and Andrew Luck atop the NFL interception category by throwing two to the Saints while Brees adds none more INTs to his 2012 totals.
Checkdown # 1
Silent Night. The Saints have had their share of trouble on the road this year, so to help them level the playing field from the get-go, they will need to score early to build a lead and silence the Cowboy-loving faithful so their hootin' and hollerin' won't get loud enough to disrupt the Saints offense (unless the boos I hope the fans feel compelled to rain down on their own defense really rattle the Saints).
What I'd Like To See: A ten-point early lead that grows to 17 by the third quarter, sending the fans to the beer lines early and often.
Checkdown # 2
Stuff the Cowboys stockings with penalties. It's been hard enough for the Saints to win on the road, and it gets even harder when they have to overcome their own mistakes as well as the play of the other team. Eliminating the drive-killing, momentum-changing, and points-costing penalties on offense will be key in this area.
What I'd Like To See: The Cowboys lead the league in penalties at a rate of 8 per game, while the Saints only "earn" 6.6 each week. The Saints need to get penalized less than four times overall, as the Cowboys at least hit their average to double the Saints in this category.
Safety First! Dallas has no running game to speak of, they're going to be down early, and Romo is just biding his time until he can reassume his role as the careless and fan-infuriating gunslinger back there, so the Saints need their backup safeties to save the day again with heady play.
What I'd Like To See: In addition to contributing to the Romo gift-giving from the Primary Option, they need to break up plenty of passes, come up to make good tackles short of first downs, and drop Romo on third down safety blitzes a couple of times, too.