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Game of the Week: Saints at Jets
New Orleans saw its 2012 season submarined by the sanctions leveled from the Bountygate scandal, most notability the year-long sabbatical of head coach Sean Payton. Without Payton, the Saints stumbled out of the gate, losing their first four games, each by eight points or less. Although the team eventually found its footing and won seven of its next 11 contests, the damage had been done, as the Saints missed the postseason for the first time since 2008.
The Jets also fell short of the playoffs last fall. After notching 32 wins in the previous three campaigns (including the postseason), Gang Green finished 2012 with a 6-10 record. Due to the heightened media scrutiny surrounding the arrival of Tim Tebow, this disappointment was amplified, making the Jets a national joke. This dejection lingered into the offseason, with the exile of star Darrelle Revis. Coupled with Mark Sanchez suffering injury in an unbecoming manner during the preseason and New York's incompetent perception continued to grow.
How quickly the tables have turned. The Saints enter the second half of the season with a 6-1 record, equating to a two-game lead in their division and bestowing a realistic shot at the NFC's top seed. The Jets, envisioned to be one of the NFL's worst teams, have stayed afloat with a 4-4 mark, inserting themselves into the Wild Card picture. These two surprises rosters will look to keep their good fortunes going as the Jets welcome the Saints to the Meadowlands in our WhatIfSports.com Game of the Week.
Without Revis, the New York defense was expected to struggle mightily. Instead, the Jets are allowing just 315 yards per game, sixth-lowest in the NFL. This includes a rush resistance that is suffocating the opposition to a league-low 78 yards per contest and a secondary that, aside from Week 8's no-show versus Andy Dalton, had kept signal callers relatively in check. The unit is led by linebacker David Harris, who boasts a team-best 58 tackles with two sacks, and defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, who has wrapped up the quarterback seven times.
This defensive proficiency has given breathing room for neophyte Geno Smith to grow. A second-round pick out of West Virginia, Smith has been erratic under center, finding the end zone ten times but owning 16 turnovers. The rookie is coming off an especially rough outing, tossing two pick-sixes to the Bengals and accumulating only 167 yards of total offense. A sound rushing attack featuring Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell has alleviated some of the responsibility on his shoulders, yet if the Jets hope to be making noise in January, it's imperative for Smith to find some semblance of consistency.
Smith won't get a respite this week, as the Saints defense has been a formidable company in the first half of the year. Revitalized by new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, New Orleans is yielding a meager 17.1 points per outing, fourth-lowest in the NFL. The Big Easy defense has been particularly stout against the pass, with its admission of 222 yards per game the ninth-best in the league. An energized front seven has been the catalyst for this turnaround, with linebacker Curtis Lofton and defensive end Cameron Jordan leading the way. While the Saints offense remains a juggernaut, the sudden defensive dexterity makes this squad a nightmare matchup.
Of course, having Drew Brees at the helm of your team doesn't hurt matters. Despite No. 1 target Jimmy Graham hobbled by a foot ailment, Brees hit pay dirt five times in Week 7's victory over Buffalo. Graham recorded two scores on the day, but the big surprise was the output from rookie Kenny Stills. Entering the day with a humble 198 yards on the season, Stills finished Sunday with 129 yards and two touchdowns. Stills remains a raw talent, as his route running leaves much to be desired. Nevertheless, his speed gives the Saints a much-needed deep-ball component, one that could open even more room for the New Orleans receiving backfield of Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles. As scary at it may sound to defensive coordinators across the league, the Saints have yet to hit their stride.
So who comes out in top in 2013's Ryan Bowl? According to the award-winning WhatIfSports.com football simulation engine, the Saints emerge victorious 73.5 percent of the time by an average margin of 27-19. For the rest of this week's projections, check below:
Please note: The Steelers-Patriots, Bears-Packers, Bengals-Dolphins, Falcons-Panthers, Titans-Rams, Vikings-Cowboys, Saints-Jets, Eagles-Raiders and Buccaneers-Seahawks games were resimulated on 10/31 to account for injuries and roster updates.
NFL Week 9
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||21.1||15||Boxscore|
|@ Seattle Seahawks||78.9||25||Simulate Game|
|@ Dallas Cowboys||64.8||30||Simulate Game|
|@ Green Bay Packers||64.8||26||Simulate Game|
|@ New England Patriots||57.3||26||Simulate Game|
|@ Carolina Panthers||54.9||25||Simulate Game|
|@ Miami Dolphins||51.6||22||Simulate Game|
|San Diego Chargers||58.4||27||Boxscore|
|@ Washington Redskins||41.6||24||Simulate Game|
|@ Cleveland Browns||38.5||19||Simulate Game|
|Kansas City Chiefs||66.0||24||Boxscore|
|@ Buffalo Bills||34.0||18||Simulate Game|
|@ Oakland Raiders||33.0||17||Simulate Game|
|@ Houston Texans||31.9||16||Simulate Game|
|New Orleans Saints||73.5||27||Boxscore|
|@ New York Jets||26.5||19||Simulate Game|
|@ St. Louis Rams||25.9||16||Simulate Game|
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