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Auping: New Orleans Saints Will Have Say In NFC East Title Race

IRVING, Texas -The New York Giants refuse to run away with the NFC East title. In typical Giants fashion, New York has played inconsistent football this year, making it difficult to really determine if they are one of the league's elite teams or just another shaky outfit that could lose to anyone.

When the Giants have pulled this act in past years it has usually led to playoff appearances and even Super Bowl titles. But the fact remains that with just four games remaining, New York is holding on to just a one-game lead for the division title with the Redskins and Cowboys trailing them.

At 6-6, the Cowboys are readying themselves to make one last push for the division crown, hoping that New York slips somewhere along the way.

Standing in the path of both New York and Dallas is New Orleans. In what figures to be a race that comes down to the wire, the Giants and Cowboys have games against the Saints left on their schedule.

The Saints have had one of the rockiest and most turmoil-filled NFL seasons in recent memory and at 5-7, their efforts to salvage a decent record will likely have an impact on the NFC East.

Still suffering the consequences of the "Bounty Gate" scandal, the Saints are playing without their head coach, Sean Payton. Linebackers coach and assistant head coach Joe Vitt has taken over to run the team. Their running game has been near the bottom of the league all season and their defense has been absolutely atrocious as they are giving up well over 400 yards per game.

But they do have the one thing that has been their strength for the last seven years: Drew Brees. It has been a tough season for Brees, but he is still No. 4 in the league in passing yardage and has more yards and touchdowns than either Tony Romo or Eli Manning.

And Brees has proven over the years that he knows how to beat the Giants and Cowboys. Since he came to New Orleans in 2006, the Saints have a combined 5-1 record against Dallas and New York. Their only slip-up was a 24-17 loss to the Cowboys back in 2009.

Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that in those six games against the Giants and Cowboys Brees threw 16 touchdowns and just two interceptions.

However, Brees is coming off of probably his worst game as a member of the Saints in which he threw no touchdowns and had five interceptions in a loss to Atlanta. Since the game was on a Thursday night, the Saints have had sufficient time to address the issues.

The Giants will face the Saints this Sunday in New Orleans. The two teams faced off last year and the Saints easily defeated New York, 49-24. New Orleans currently has the third-ranked passing offense and the Giants have the 22nd-ranked passing defense.

The Cowboys will face the Saints at Cowboy Stadium in Week 16 on Dec. 23. The Redskins had the benefit of playing the Saints in Week 1 of the season while Vitt was still serving his suspension and the team was still reeling from the controversy and its implications. Washington pulled off a 40-32 victory.

The Saints will be able to not only trip up the playoff hopes of either New York or Dallas, but they can also serve as a barometer for both team's offenses. The Cowboys and Giants are said to have explosive offenses, but they have been inconsistent this season and they have struggled to score points in important situations. The Saints' defense is almost historically bad. They own the 32nd-ranked rushing defense and the 30th-ranked passing defense. If the Cowboys or Giants' offenses fail to put up big numbers against the Saints, then it might be a sign that the expectations for these clubs have been a little too high this season.

There are plenty of other games left to play. New York still has to face Atlanta and Baltimore. The Cowboys will have to beat Cincinnati this Sunday just to avoid falling below .500. And the Redskins will have some say in the division race as well.

But this Sunday, Cowboy fans everywhere will be hoping that Drew Brees can put up one of his signature 400-yard games and take down the Giants. And then a few weeks later, they will be hoping that Rob Ryan and the Cowboys' defense can think of a way to contain that very same quarterback. 

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