NFL Preview - Baltimore (6-4) at New Orleans (4-6)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Superdome used to be the New Orleans Saints' salve, an edifice that could soothe any ailment the team might have.
The struggling Saints have dropped two straight on their home field and will try to stop the bleeding when they host the well-rested Baltimore Ravens on "Monday Night Football."
New Orleans, considered by many to be a true Super Bowl contender before the season started, remains relevant in the NFC playoff picture only because of the division they play in, the dismal NFC South.
A 27-10 loss to Cincinnati at the Superdome in Week 11 lowered the Saints' record to 4-6 but that's still good enough to be tied for the top spot in the South with Atlanta entering the weekend, although the Falcons currently hold the tiebreaker thanks to their 4-0 mark in division play.
"I feel good about our chances and the opportunity that we have," New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees said. "We're learning a lot about how to win. Failure can be the best teacher at times."
It taught them plenty against the Bengals as Brees threw for 255 yards and a touchdown on 33-of-41 passing but the Saints dropped back-to-back home games for the first time since 2012, when they lost the season opener to Washington and then to Kansas City in overtime in Week 3.
New Orleans had won a club-record 11 straight home games in the regular season until a Week 10 overtime loss to San Francisco.
Mark Ingram added 67 yards on the ground on 23 carries and caught a game-high seven passes for only 30 yards.
"We kind of felt going in we were going to run a sequence there: certain run then come back to a pass. They defended it well and we weren't able to get anything," said New Orleans head coach Sean Payton.
"We can't escape the reality of where we are right now," Brees added. "You are what your record says you are. We're a 4-6 team right now. None of us feel that because we're still in contention that that's good enough. We still have a lot of work to do."
The Ravens, on the other hand, play in the ultra-tough AFC North, where every team is at least two games over .500 and Baltimore, despite its 6-4 mark, is tied for last with Cleveland entering Week 12. Cincinnati, at 6-3-1, tops the division with Pittsburgh next at 7-4.
"Every win is important," said Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith. "In our division, there are a bunch of talented teams. It's going to be interesting down the stretch. Hopefully, we come out on top."
The Ravens are coming off their bye week after halting a two-game skid by coasting past Tennessee, 21-7, back on Nov. 9 in the Charm City.
"Players took some time off and kind of emotionally and physically recharged a little bit," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "You don't realize how exhausted you are until you get a chance to take a deep breath and relax."
Justin Forsett rushed for 112 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Titans while Joe Flacco finished 16-of-27 for 169 yards and one score to Smith for Baltimore, which shook off a pair of road division losses to the Bengals and Steelers.
"Going into the bye, you want to feel good about things and get back on track," tight end Owen Daniels said.
The Ravens and Saints have met just five times previously with Baltimore holding a 4-1 advantage, including a 30-24 win on Dec. 19, 2010, the last time the two teams met. The clubs haven't clashed in New Orleans since October of 2006, also a Ravens win (35-22).
Baltimore is 9-9 all-time on Monday nights while the Saints are just under that .500 barrier at 17-18.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Both Brees and Flacco tend to excel under the national spotlight.
Brees has won nine of his past 10 starts on "Monday Night Football" with a 118.6 passer rating in those contests. Meanwhile, Flacco has won four of his past five starts on MNF.
Both have been buoyed by a renewed running game. In New Orleans Ingram has stabilized things and leads the NFL in rushing since Week 8 with 459 yards on the ground. That's important because impact rookie receiver Brandin Cooks had surgery to repair a broken right thumb this week and is gone for the season.
Baltimore's Forsett leads all NFL backs with 5.4 yards per rush and will be matching up against a defense that has allowed nearly 150 yards on the ground over its past three games.
Each team has struggled with turnovers, though. The Saints are minus-nine on the season and while Baltimore is barely on the plus side of the ledger (plus- one), Flacco has been regressing recently, throwing five interceptions in his last four games.
Facing Rob Ryan's defense could get Flacco headed back in the right direction. The Saints are 24th in the NFL against the pass and have only created 10 takeaways, the fifth-worst mark in the league.
Brees, who leads the NFL with a nearly 70 percent completion percentage, is also facing a unit that struggles stopping the passing game. The Ravens are 21st in football against the pass and have managed just six picks on the season.
Brees has never beaten the Ravens, however, going 0-3 against them in his career, once when he was with the Chargers and twice with New Orleans.
"I am aware. Thanks for reminding me," Brees said of his lack of success against Baltimore. "It doesn't matter who we're playing. Every time I step on the field, I want to win. But certainly, you want to say that you've beaten every team."
Although there are six games left on their schedule, this could be the last stand for the Saints, who haven't lost three straight home games since a six- game slide in 2005.
"There have been a number of tough losses, close losses, and what that means is at this point in the season, that margin for error becomes that much more slight," Payton said. "We're playing a six-game season right now. We have to find a way to get a win this week."
The guess here is that this is the last chance for New Orleans to reestablish its mojo inside the Superdome and the Saints will get it done ... barely.
"We're going to have a tough environment," Harbaugh said. "They're coming off two losses, they're a very proud team, very well coached, very talented. We're going to have our hands full and we'd better be ready to go. I'd like to think our guys understand that, but we'll find out Monday night.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Saints 24, Ravens 21
11/21 13:11:56 ET