The New Orleans Saints host the Buffalo Bills Thanksgiving night in a game that is a must-win for both teams. Buffalo is just 2-2 since their bye week, alternating wins over lesser opponents with ugly losses over the last month. The Saints, meanwhile, are dealing with injuries and have lost three straight games.
For quite some time, beating the Saints at home was essentially an impossible task. However, if there is a good time to play the Saints, it certainly seems to be now, as the team could be without its starting quarterback, top two running backs, top wideout, and top tight end, among other nicks and bruises.
The Bills will need to stop New Orleans’ top players, whoever they are, if they want to pick up their seventh win of the year and their first victory over New Orleans since a Week 17 victory in 1998. Here are our players to watch this week.
QB Trevor Siemian
New Orleans is 0-3 in his starts, but Siemian has one thing going for him, which is a fantastic touchdown-to-interception ration of 8:2 in those games. Siemian has only completed 56 percent of his passes, however, so the offense has been far less efficient than it was with Jameis Winston at the helm. Throw in a knee injury for Alvin Kamara and New Orleans hasn’t been able to do much of anything that they want to do on offense. Siemian isn’t a star, but he’s a capable NFL signal-caller who has a strong enough arm to make any necessary throw. Buffalo hasn’t had many problems with opposing passing games, so if they can stop the run and force the Saints into third-and-long, they’ll be in prime position to cause some turnovers. When that happens, Buffalo tends to pounce.
RB Tony Jones Jr.
With Kamara expected to miss the game thanks to the MCL sprain he suffered a few weeks ago, and Mark Ingram appearing on the injury report this week with a knee injury of his own, someone has to run the ball for the Saints. After last week’s disgusting excuse for run defense, anyone should be happy for the opportunity, too. Enter Jones, a 5’11”, 224-lb bruiser who runs with the kind of physicality that has given Buffalo problems at times this year. Granted, Jones Jr. isn’t Jonathan Taylor (most players aren’t), but if Harrison Phillips, Vernon Butler, and Ed Oliver can’t play better in the middle it might not matter who is running against the Bills. Look for head coach Sean Payton to test Buffalo’s run front early in this one. If the Bills can shut it down early, they could negate any advantage the Saints may have over the long haul via the run based on scoring points. Jones Jr. averages just 3.6 yards per rush this year, so it needs to be a bounce-back game for the Buffalo defense.
QB/RB/TE Taysom Hill
What is he? He’s essentially a modern-day version of Kordell Stewart, as he can effectively “slash” his way on to the field in multiple ways. Hill was active last week against the Philadelphia Eagles, but he did not see any time on the field. Given Buffalo’s troubles with a physical run from last week, I expect that Hill will be deployed at least a bit this week. With only Hill, Siemian, and rookie Ian Book on the active roster, though, Payton can’t exactly throw his backup quarterback out there with reckless abandon. That could save the Bills a full-out dose of Hill. In a must-win scenario, though, don’t be surprised to see the Saints attack what they perceive as a tremendous weakness until the Bills prove that they can stop it.
EDGE Marcus Davenport
The Saints’ top pass-rusher has 5.5 sacks, ten quarterback hits, and seven tackles for loss this year in just six games. In his fourth pro season, Davenport is playing his best football, and the Saints did pick up his fifth-year contract option earlier this year. Whether he’s lined up across from Dion Dawkins, Spencer Brown, or Daryl Williams, the Bills will need to use their tight ends and running backs to help out with some chips and double-team blocks. Poor protection has blown up plenty of plays and drives for the Bills this year, and taking care of the top rusher for the Saints will go a long way towards a positive outcome on Thursday. Running some screens and draws in his direction with speedy running back Matt Breida could make him think twice about going all-in on the pass rush.
CB Marshon Lattimore
Lattimore is one of the league’s best corners, so I’m not suggesting that Buffalo attack him when they have other options. However, if there comes a time where they need a play, and Lattimore has Stefon Diggs one-on-one, the Bills can’t shy away from that matchup just because it’s the Saints’ best corner. As good as he is, Lattimore has given up some big plays this year. He’s allowing an average of 17.9 yards per completion this year, and while he’s allowed just a 57 percent completion rate on passes in his area, he has allowed four touchdown grabs on 61 targets. There are other matchups that are going to be more in Buffalo’s favor, but one of the best battles on the field on Thursday night is going to be Diggs vs. Lattimore.