New Orleans Saints (2-3) at Kansas City Chiefs (3-2)
SERIES HISTORY: 11th regular-season meeting between these teams and the series is tied at 5 victories each. They last met in the 2012 season, when the Chiefs won at the Superdome 27-24. That was one of only two winning efforts Kansas City had that year. The last time the teams met at Arrowhead Stadium, the Saints left town with a 30-20 victory in 2008. New Orleans is 3-1 in Kansas City. They've met just three times in the last 18 seasons.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Saints top the NFL with 335.4 passing yards per game after they finished with a net 460 yards in last Sunday's 41-38 victory over the Carolina Panthers. Yet, it wouldn't be surprising to see them try to establish the run early in Sunday's game with the Chiefs. The Chiefs rank 24th in the league against the run in allowing 116.6 yards per game, while they are 12th against the pass in giving up 236.6 yards a game. The Saints show an ability to run the ball at times, but usually don't have to because of the passing game. This could be the perfect opportunity to boost their 78.0 yards per game output on the ground.
On the other side of the ball, the Saints are still near the bottom of the NFL stats in most defensive categories. They rank 31st in total yards allowed (419.4) and against the pass (301.6) and they're 26th against the run (117.8). While they have endured injury after injury, they allowed only seven touchdown passes after giving up an NFL-record 45 a year ago.
The Saints know the key against the Chiefs is tightening up the run defense a little. The Chiefs' Spencer Ware, who has filled in nicely for an injured Jamaal Charles with 415 yards and a 5.3 average, is coming off a 131-yard performance against the Oakland Raiders. Yet, the Saints may also have to contend with Charles, who continues to make his way back from a knee injury.
The Chiefs have been on a roller coaster that bottomed out in a 29-point pounding by Pittsburgh nearly three weeks ago. But last Sunday in Oakland, the Chiefs dominated a Raiders team that was previously 4-1.
To maintain success, the Chiefs must present a balanced offense, giving the running game the chance to kill the clock and peck out some big plays. Defensively, K.C. was torched by Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, but then handled Oakland's Derek Carr fairly well.
Drew Brees and his talented group of wide receivers can be a potent bunch. The Chiefs need pressure on Brees and the best performance of the season from their secondary.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Chiefs RBs Jamaal Charles, Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West vs. Saints defensive front seven led by defensive end Cameron Jordan and middle linebacker James Laurinaitis. Andy Reid fields a three-headed animal with his running game thanks to Charles, Ware and West. All three have different styles and all three are very productive when healthy, not only as runners, but receivers. The Chiefs are No. 14 in the NFL this week with an average of 108.8 rushing yards per game. New Orleans is the 26th-ranked run defense, allowing an average of 117.8 yards per game. The Kansas City offense only works when it's balanced and the run game can protect quarterback Alex Smith and the passing game. Jordan and Laurinaitis both have 24 tackles on the season.
--Saints WRs Brandin Cooks and Michael Thomas vs. Chiefs LCB Marcus Peters. Drew Brees and his outside receivers are going to have their work cut out for them against Peters, who has already ascended to the upper tier of cover cornerbacks in the league in less than 11/2 seasons. Peters has 13 interceptions in 21 regular-season games with five picks in five outings this season -- getting two each in Weeks 2 and 3. Peters also had an interception in the playoffs last year, giving him a total of 14 in just 23 games. So the Saints will have to be creative to try and pick their spots in challenging Peters.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Chiefs CB Marcus Peters. In five games, Peters has five interceptions to lead the league. In 23 regular and postseason games, the second-year corner has 14 interceptions, the best start ever in the NFL. He faces quite a challenge this Sunday going up against QB Drew Brees, one of the league's most accurate and experienced passers. Brees has thrown four picks in five games, but that doesn't slow down the Saints offense and willingness to throw the ball. Whether he sees coverage on Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead or rookie Michael Thomas, Peters will get a chance for his sixth interception; it's important that the K.C. defense finds a way to contain Brees and his receiving corps if they expect to win the game.200 or so words on somebody for some reason, try not to duplicate a matchup subject.
INJURY REPORT: New Orleans -- Out: LB Stephone Anthony (hamstring), CB Delvin Breaux (fibula), LB Dannell Ellerbe (quadricep), RB Daniel Lasco (hamstring), CB Sterling Moore (abdomen), T Andrus Peat (groin). Questionable: T Terron Armstead (knee), DE Paul Kruger (back). Kansas City -- Questionable: RB Jamaal Charles (knee), CB Phillip Gaines (knee).
FAST FACTS: Saints RB Mark Ingram is averaging 109 scrimmage yards per game in past six against AFC teams. Last week TE Coby Fleener caught ten passes for 74 yards, TD and added first career rushing TD. ... Chiefs QB Alex Smith started four games against New Orleans during his 11-year career, posting a 1-3 record. Smith's only victory over the Saints was in the 2011 playoffs when he threw three touchdown passes, sending San Francisco to the NFC Championship Game. He lost starts with the 49ers against New Orleans in 2006, 2007 and 2010. Overall in those four games, Smith threw six touchdowns and five interceptions. Chiefs are shooting for ninth consecutive win at home.
PREDICTION: These Chiefs are getting into stride and are being overlooked in conversations about top teams in the NFL, probably because they are in the same division with Denver and Oakland. But the Chiefs could be ready for another hot streak.
OUR PICK: Chiefs, 38-28.