New Orleans vs Baltimore
After a slow start, the New Orleans Saints are putting up offensive numbers like last season en route to winning their first Super Bowl.
The Baltimore Ravens, meanwhile, can make a big statement by tightening up their defense.
The Saints look for their seventh straight win Sunday when they visit the Ravens for the first time since 2002.
New Orleans (10-3) is one game behind NFC South-leading Atlanta, which currently owns the No. 1 seed in the conference thanks to a seven-game run.
The defending Super Bowl champions' surge has come about with an impressive turnaround on offense. New Orleans is scoring 30.5 points and averaging 402.5 yards during its winning streak, up from 21.0 points and 371.9 yards while getting off to a 4-3 start.
The Saints have scored at least 30 points in their last five games, including a 31-13 win over St. Louis on Sunday, tying the longest streak in franchise history originally set in 2002. Last season, the Saints scored at least 30 points nine times, and finished with 510.
Drew Brees threw for 221 yards and three touchdowns while Malcolm Jenkins returned an interception 96 yards for a touchdown against the Rams.
"It was just a matter of getting into a rhythm," said Brees, who needs 145 passing yards to reach 4,000 for a fifth straight season. "We're just trying to get guys in and for everybody to find their role."
The Saints ran for 132 yards, the fourth time in five weeks they've reached the 100-yard mark on the ground after averaging 84.8 over the first eight games.
The running game has been helped by the return of Pierre Thomas, who played Sunday after missing nine games with a left ankle sprain, and Reggie Bush, who came back two weeks earlier after sitting out eight games with a broken leg. They combined for 129 yards of total offense against St. Louis.
New Orleans will face two big challenges in as many weeks against a pair of playoff contenders. On Dec. 27, the Saints, who are 5-1 on the road, visit Atlanta.
"It's a competitive stretch," coach Sean Payton said. "Clearly, Baltimore is an elite team. It's another real good challenge for us."
The Ravens rank 10th in the NFL in overall yards allowed with 319.8 and eighth against the run, yielding 98.8 yards per game.
Baltimore, which has won three of four and is a game behind Pittsburgh in the AFC North, is coming off one of its worst defensive performances of the year Monday night in a 34-28 overtime win at Houston.
The Ravens hadn't given up more than 13 points in their previous three games, but blew a 28-7 third-quarter lead before cornerback Josh Wilson returned an interception 12 yards for a touchdown in overtime.
The 489 yards of offense allowed were the second-most any opponent has totaled against Baltimore this season. Matt Schaub passed for 393 yards, which could be a good sign for Brees.
"We've just been kind of inconsistent, and it's cost us," linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "We've been extremely dominant at times, and there have been times we haven't played so well."
It marked the second straight game in which Baltimore gave up a fourth-quarter lead. On Dec. 5, the Ravens yielded 10 fourth-quarter points in a 13-10 loss to the Steelers.
Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco doesn't appear overly concerned.
"As long as we're winning football games, we'll be happy," he said. "We're going to work on things to get better. But we're a 9-4 football team right now and we're feeling pretty good about ourselves."
Flacco passed for 235 yards and two touchdowns Monday, and didn't throw an interception for the second straight games. Flacco has tied a career-high with 21 TD passes, but has only eight interceptions after throwing 12 in each of his first two seasons.
The Ravens are 3-1 all-time against the Saints including a 35-22 win on Oct. 29, 2006 in New Orleans.
The 3 headed monster of Ivory, Bush,and Thomas
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