The Cowboys and the New Orleans Saints are quite familiar with each other – they've played an inter-division game in five of the last six seasons, the only exception being 2011.
They meet again Sunday night in primetime, both badly needing a victory. The Cowboys are trying to maintain their early-season NFC East lead without quarterback Tony Romo (fractured collarbone) and wide receiver Dez Bryant (foot surgery). The Saints are 0-3, and only one team, the 1992 San Diego Chargers, has overcome an 0-4 start to make the playoffs since the current postseason format was established 25 years ago.
Here are the gut feelings from staff writers David Helman, Nick Eatman, Rob Phillips and Bryan Broaddus:
David Helman: From 1-53, I think the Cowboys have a much better team than the New Orleans Saints this season. But with the recent revelation that Drew Brees will play on Sunday, I think the Saints have a far superior quarterback – and that counts for a lot. At the same time, I can't help but feel that the Cowboys have a decided talent advantage. I don't trust that the Saints can shut down the Dallas run game as effectively as the Falcons did, and I do trust that the Cowboys can improve defensively on last week's meltdown. I don't feel confident at all in picking a Dallas win, because a good quarterback can make all the difference. But it's not as if Drew Brees has been stellar in his two games. He's got a quarterback rating of just 82 in two games – which is abysmal by his lofty standards. If the Cowboys can bait him into a couple of mistakes, it could make a big difference. I expect Dallas to employ a similar, conservative game plan this week, but I also expect it to be more effective in a 31-26 win.
Nick Eatman: To me, this one is a weird game to predict because just about every scenario imaginable is one that I could picture happening. I could see a close win by either team. I would also believe that both teams are capable of a one-sided blowout. All week long I've expected Drew Brees to play and I think that's exactly what we'll see come Sunday night. Now, how effective will he be is another story but my gut tells me he'll play and he'll be just fine. That doesn't mean the Saints will be fine because of it because he still needs plenty of help. I can see the Cowboys just running the ball at will. I think Darren McFadden will get the most carries he's had all season and he'll play well. But Joseph Randle should also made a few plays. Even though I can see Christine Michael playing, I don't expect him to do more than a few short-yardage runs. It's the nature of the NFL for a guy to have no catches one week and about seven or eight the next so I predict a big game from Terrance Williams. I think the Cowboys get three turnovers and somehow, they find a way to pull off this game, 28-23. I picked it a little more lopsided on our radio podcast "The Break" Friday morning but now feel it could be closer. I still think Dallas finds a way to get to 3-1.
Rob Phillips: The Saints are winless in their last six at home, but the Superdome is still the Superdome. Meaning, loud. This is Sunday Night Football, primetime, a very difficult environment for Brandon Weeden. It has to be the offensive line's night. They must handle the noise, eliminate pre-snap penalties, and control the line of scrimmage the way they did for a half against the Falcons. I expect a more complete game from the starting five, and therefore, a more complete running game that will make Weeden's job easier. Defensively, Brandin Cooks is the new challenge for the secondary – he can beat you in the screen game or deep. And they'll have to account for running back C.J. Spiller who, like Lance Dunbar, is effective in space. Despite all their injuries and a very disappointing second half against Atlanta, the Cowboys showed they still have enough to compete with good teams. I don't expect Sunday to be pretty, but they'll find a way to get to 3-1 with the Patriots up next. Something like 24-21.
Bryan Broaddus: This Dallas offensive line is now back together after losing Ronald Leary for the last two ball games. Overall they have not been their collective best this last season but against the Saints that will change. The Saints have had their share of troubles defending both the run and pass and this Cowboys offensive line will not make things easy for them. My gut feeling is that we see the Cowboys' offensive line control the line of scrimmage similar to when these two teams met last season. As crazy as this sounds, having Ronald Leary back means a great deal to this group. Cowboys win the game, 27-17.