NFL: Saints vs. Chiefs: Possible Super Bowl precursor in Superdome on Sunday

677
Derick E. Hingle/New Orleans Saints Pool Photo

New Orleans hopes to rebound against reigning NFL champions after nine-game win streak unexpectedly snapped.

By Aaron S. Lee

When the one-loss Kansas City Chiefs (12-1) come calling on the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday, last season’s Super Bowl winners do so with a familiar face in tow.

Minden native L’Jarius Sneed will continue his inaugural NFL season with his first matchup against the Saints. However, just which quarterback the rookie defensive back will be facing is still a mystery of sorts.

Despite being designated to return to practice, Drew Brees still has ”a ways to go” in his recovery from 11 broken ribs and a punctured lung suffered in Week 10, said Saints head coach Sean Payton on Wednesday.

“We haven’t ruled anything just because we don’t have to,” he told reporters after practice when asked if Brees could play Sunday. “He’s got a ways to go still, and he’s someone we’re not gonna just hurry back and just put him in the game.”

The Saints (10-3) have gone 4-1 since Brees succumbed to injury against San Francisco. Despite former Tampa Bay starter Jameis Winston successfully relieving the NFL’s all-time leading passer (79,612 yards), who turns 42 on Jan. 15, in the second-half win against the Niners, it’s been heir apparent Taysom Hill under center the past four games, going 3-1 in his first four pro starts.

But it was the shocking 24-21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles (4-8-1) that ended the Saints’ nine-game win streak that has given pause for concern.

While Hill went a solid 28-for-38 for 291 yards passing with two touchdowns and just one interception, the usually mobile do-it-all 30-year-old was sacked five times by an Eagles team mired in NFC East mediocrity.

In fact, the Saints were upset by rookie Jalen Hurts making his first start in place of an underperforming Carson Wentz.

Hurts completed 17 of 30  passing attempts for 167 yards and one touchdown. Hurts also added 106 rushing yards, totaling 273 all-purpose yards to nearly out-Taysom the Saints starter at his own game.

Now the Saints are in a race for the NFC’s No. 1 seed, which earns a postseason bye. New Orleans currently shares the conference’s best record with the 10-3 Green Bay Packers, who have a tiebreaker advantage after beating the Saints way back in Week 3.

Now the Saints will need to bounce back in the win column and clinch the NFC South against the visiting NFL champions led by former league and Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes.

With Mahomes at the trigger, the Chiefs’ offense ranks first in the NFL in total net yards per game, (17th rushing and first passing), while the defense ranks 17th (26th against the run and 15th against the pass). Meanwhile, the New Orleans defense ranks second in the NFL (second against the run and fourth against the pass), while its offense is ranked 12th (seventh in rushing yards per game and 21st in pass offense).

As for Sneed making his Superdome debut as a pro, the fourth-round pick out of Louisiana Tech is coming off an eight-tackle outing, including seven solo, in a win over Miami last Sunday. This comes off six (four) against Denver the week prior.

The 23-year-old has rebounded nicely from an early-season injury that cost him six games after a promising start that saw him record a 39-yard interception return in his NFL debut to kick off the season.

”Most definitely, I’m getting better,” said Sneed earlier this month after being switched from cornerback to nickel upon his return from a broken collarbone.

“Mental-wise, I’m playing a new position, it’s going to help me expand my mental, make me think a lot. You know [it’ll] make me go home and work harder than when I was working before. So yeah, most definitely make me a great player, the way I was.”

— Featured photo courtesy of the New Orleans Saints