The 10-1 New Orleans Saints:
For the tenth time in a row, the 10-1 New Orleans Saints won in Week 12 on Thanksgiving evening, crushing the Atlanta Falcons 31-17, but still scoring 6.2 points less than their league leading per game average of 37.2.
Saints future hall-of-famer quarterback Drew Brees threw 15-for-22 f or 171 yards and 4 touchdowns with an uncharacteristic interception, bringing his season pick total to two.
New Orleans is 5-0 on the road, 7-1 against teams in the NFC and on a 10-game winning streak that’s going to be tough for anyone to put an end to.
The 6-5 Dallas Cowboys:
By finally getting past the 6-5 Washington Redskins this season on Thanksgiving Day by a score of 31-23, the 6-5 Dallas Cowboys have launched themselves to the top of the NFC East based on their superior divisional record of 3-1.
Big games from quarterback Dak Prescott, running back Ezekiel Elliott and newly acquired wide receiver Amari Cooper helped the Cowboys gain a much-needed victory that came down to preventing the Redskins from recovering a last minute onside kick.
Dallas is 3-3 at home this season and 6-3 against NFC teams, but it will take everything the Cowboys have and more to defeat a Saints team that seems to be on an express train to the Super Bowl.
What’s at stake:
These two teams have met 28 times, with Dallas winning 16 games and New Orleans winning 12 games. The Saints have won the last four-out-of-five match-ups, the most recent being an overtime victory back in October of 2015.
If the Saints win this matchup, their record will be 11-1 and they’ll stay at least four games ahead of the Carolina Panthers in the NFC South, though the Saints play the Panthers twice during the rest of the season.
But if the Cowboys come out on top, they’ll be 7-5 and stay atop the NFC East over the Redskins, who play the floundering Philadelphia Eagles in Week 13.
Questions to answer…
Who’s favored to win this Week 13 Saints-Cowboys matchup?
Which team has a better offense? Defense? Special teams?
Which team’s quarterback is more likely to lead his team to victory?
We’re going to compare the Saints and the Cowboys and attempt to answer those questions and more.
The 2018 Saints offense firing on all cylinders
Aside from setting records and winning ten-in-a-row, quarterback Drew Brees is doing his best to get the players deep in the Saints roster involved, the result of dealing with an injury-laden receiver corps.
With Tre’Quan Smith and Brandon Marshall both inactive in Week 12, Brees spread the wealth and threw a touchdown to third-string tight end Dan Arnold, fourth and fifth string receivers Kieth Kirkwood and Tommylee Lewis and third receiver Austin Carr.
That makes 29 total touchdowns this season for Brees (2nd in the league to Patrick Mahomes), but when you consider he’s only thrown two interceptions in that whole time, it’s an even more remarkable achievement.
Saints rushing attack multi-faceted
The Saints’ rushing attack is ranked sixth in the league overall due to the two-pronged attack coming out of New Orleans’ backfield.
Leading the way is last year’s All-Rookie running back Alvin Kamara, who is ranked 8th in the league in total rushing yards (706) and is ranked 2nd overall in rushing touchdowns (11), while also catching 57 balls for 519 yards and 4 more touchdowns.
Veteran Mark Ingram shares snaps and gives Kamara breathers, and with 12.9 attempts per game he’s run for 440 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 4.9 yards per run.
New Orleans offensive Injuries
Wide receivers Brandon Marshall (coach’s decision) and Tre’Quan Smith (toe) as well as tackle Terron Armstead (pectoral) and center Will Clapp (coach’s decision) were all inactive in Week 12.
The 2018 Cowboys offense returning to form
The Cowboys’ offense has taken a while to warm up, but quarterback Dak Prescott and crew have finally figured out the perfect balance between their exceptional running game and Dez-less receiving attack.
Prescott is only ranked 21st in total passing yards (2,427) and T-19th in touchdowns (13) and for the first part of the season he was lacking a faster deep threat target who could get quick separation and get yards after the catch.
Owner Jerry Jones fixed the problem (among many others) by trading the Oakland Raiders for receiver Amari Cooper in October, who in four games since has caught 22 passes for 349 yards and 3 touchdowns, averaging 15.9 yards per catch.
Dallas’s run game
The Cowboys run game starts and stops with running back Ezekiel Elliott, who currently leads the league in rushing yards with 1,074, with 6 touchdowns.
Of course, add to that Zeke’s receiving yards – he’s gone 47-for-62 for 363 yards and 2 more touchdowns.
Having Cooper as a deep threat, receiver Cole Beasley and tight end Geoff Swaim as slot threats has given Dallas’ rushing attack the perfect counterbalance.
Dallas offensive Injuries
Wide receiver Tavon Austin (groin) didn’t participate in Sunday’s practice.
Offensive tackle Tyron Smith (neck) is expected to available for Week 13.
Saints Defense ranks 16th in the league
The Saints defense is ranked in the middle of the league after allowing opponents to score 23.3 points and gain a total of 358.9 yards per game.
New Orleans is ranked 29th against the pass and number one against the run, and is tied for tenth most interceptions (10) and the eleventh most sacks (30) while they’re ranked 13th for allowing opponents to convert on 38.3 percent of their third downs.
Saints Defensive Players to watch:
Outside linebacker Demario Davis has 76 combined tackles, 18th most in the league.
All-Pro defensive end Cameron Jordan has 8.0 sacks (T-14th most) while defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins has 7.0 sacks (T-20 most).
Defensive back Chris Banjo has 2 interceptions.
Defensive ends Trey Hendrickson (coach’s decision) and Mitchell Loewen (coach’s decision) as well as middle linebacker Manti Te’o (coach’s decision) were all inactive for Week 12.
Cowboys Defense is 8th overall
Dallas has a solid defense that only allows opponents to score 19.4 points and gain 331.1 total yards per game, ranking 12th against the pass and 3rd against the run.
The Cowboys have sacked 31 quarterbacks (T-9th) and have 7 interceptions (T-22nd) and 11 forced fumbles (T-7th).
Cowboys Defensive Players to watch:
Rookie outside linebacker Leighton Vander Esch has the third most combined tackles in the league with 93, also 2 interceptions and 9 passes defended.
Defensive end Demarcus Lawrence has 8.5 sacks (13th most in the NFL), an interception and a pass defended, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, 46 combined tackles and 17 quarterback hits.
Defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford has 4.5 sacks, 10 quarterback hits, 26 combined tackles (4 for loss) and 2 passes defended.
Defensive end Taco Charlton (shoulder) is listed day to day and was inactive against the Redskins for Week 12.
Special Teams Stats Comparison
New Orleans’ punter, Thomas Morstead, was a fifth-round draft pick back in 2009 and so far, he’s punted 21 times for a net average of 43.4 yards per punt, ranked 3rd in the league.
Dallas’s punter, Chris Jones, has been in the league and with the Cowboys since 2011.
So far, Jones has punted 40 times for a net average of 38.9 yards per punt, ranked 21st in the league.
New Orleans’ placekicker, Wil Lutz, in his third season, is 21-for-22, his longest a 54-yarder..
Lutz has missed one extra point attempt (39/40).
Dallas’s placekicker, Brett Maher, got hired after the surprising release of veteran Dan Bailey.
Maher is 21-for-25, his longest a 55-yarder.
Maher has missed one extra point attempt (18/19)..
New Orleans’ punt returner, running back Alvin Kamara, is ranked 37th in the league in return average.
Kamara has returned 8 punts for 58 yards and no touchdowns, averaging 7.3 yards per return, his longest for 15 yards.
Dallas’s punt returner, wide receiver Cole Beasley, is ranked 61st in the league in return average.
Beasley has returned 6 punts for 24 yards and no touchdowns, averaging 4.0 yards per return, his longest for 7 yards.
Saints–Cowboys prediction and odds
The oddsmakers have the Saints favored over the Cowboys by 7.5 with an over/under of 52.0.
CBSSports.com has two final score predictions:
Pete Prisco goes with the under and has it Cowboys 24, Saints 21
John Breech takes the over and predicts it Saints 31, Cowboys 23