The New Orleans Saints (10-3) return to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to battle the defending Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs (12-1) in Week 15. The Saints look to bounce back from their first loss in 2 months and clinch a fourth consecutive NFC South division title along the way.
I will give the three X-Factors that could prove to be the difference makers for New Orleans in Week 15.
OFFENSIVE X-FACTOR: QB DREW BREES
The NFL's all-time leading passer Drew Brees duels the league's brightest up and coming star Patrick Mahomes for the first and potentially only time in the regular season on Sunday. In a game with “Shootout” and “Game of the Year” potential written all over it, Brees' return from injury only increases the hype surrounding the game. It intensifies the pressure of the team performing to Super Bowl contending standards.
Brees returns to the gridiron for the first time since Week 10, when he suffered 11 broken ribs and a punctured lung against the 49ers. The 20-year veteran will be without wide receiver Michael Thomas. Thomas was placed on injured reserve this weekend because of his nagging ankle injury from Week 1. Expect Brees to provide a big spark in the Saints passing attack and overall team leadership while making their Super Bowl push.
An injured player's first game back is usually very telling. In Brees' case, his first action against the defending champions will speak volumes about the Saints' competitive standing in the NFL. Sunday is a big one for the Black and Gold in their battle for a first-round bye. There is no player with more on his shoulders in this affair than number 9.
DEFENSIVE X-FACTOR: CB MARSHON LATTIMORE
The 2017 Defensive Rookie of the Year did not hold back this week when asked about matching up against the speed of "The Cheetah" Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill.
"What you think, man? You think I can match up with him? I think I can. He’s fast, yeah. But it’s football at the end of the day. I feel like I'm a great corner and he’s a great receiver. It’s a matchup."
Lattimore and the Saints secondary will have their hands full Sunday inside the Superdome battling the league's best passing attack, led by the 2018 NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes. New Orleans has not surrendered a 300+ yard passer in 16 games and looks to continue that streak Sunday.
While all eyes will be on the Mahomes and Brees, the match-up that could determine the game's result is Lattimore and Hill. The Ohio State product talks a mean game but now has a chance to back it up Sunday afternoon.
WILD CARD X-FACTOR: RB ALVIN KAMARA
The Saints gained QB Drew Brees back from IR this week but have lost WR Michael Thomas for the remainder of the regular season because of a nagging ankle injury. In Thomas' absence earlier this season, New Orleans relied heavily on superstar RB Alvin Kamara and could do the same over the next three weeks.
Kansas City has allowed 623 yards to running backs this season. Before Brees' injury, Kamara torched defenses with his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. AK even led the league in yards after the catch and was a top-five receiver in the NFL earlier this season.
With Brees' return, expect Kamara's production to increase as he will be the offense's focal point without Michael Thomas. The Saints are making a final push towards the NFC's #1 seed, and a win against Kansas City is vital to continue that chase. The 2017 Offensive Rookie of the Year could be the ultimate X-Factor for New Orleans and the regular season's remaining games.
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