The NFC South-leading New Orleans Saints — who at 5-1 and coming off a bye week trail only a pair of 6-0 starts in 1991 and 2009 for the best record after six games in club history — host the Buffalo Bills Sunday afternoon at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. This will be the 10th time the teams have met with the Saints leading the series 5-4.
The Bills, coached by former Saints Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line Coach Doug Marrone, are currently 3-4 following a 23-21 win at the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
During Marrone's three-year tenure, the Saints led the NFL in total offense and passing yards per game in 2006 and 2008 and led the league with 6,264 yards on offense in 2006 and again in 2008 with 6,571 yards.
The Bills will likely rely on quarterback Thad Lewis, an undrafted free agent out of Duke, to get the job done against the Saints with their starting quarterback EJ Manuel recovering from knee surgery. Lewis has played in two games as the Bills starter, completing 40-of-64 passes for 418 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Buffalo has also recently signed quarterback Matt Flynn, who was released by the Oakland Raiders in early October.
The Saints will have to control Buffalo's fierce ground attack with running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. Although both have been fighting injuries this season, Spiller has posted 362 rushing yards, 36 receiving yards and one touchdown and Jackson has recorded 380 rushing yards, 215 receiving yards and five touchdowns.
In his second season with the Bills, defensive end Mario Williams is off to the best start of his career with 10 sacks throughout the first seven games. Williams had two sacks last week against the Dolphins, the last one forcing a fumble recovered by defensive tackle Kyle Williams at the Miami 43-yard line with 2:48 remaining in the game.
The Saints have opened the season at 5-1 three other times, in 1988, 2002 and 2006. In 1991 and 2009, New Orleans was undefeated after six contests. A balanced, consistent approach on offense combined with a resurgent, opportunistic defense has helped the club make the plays to get off to a fast start. The club's lone loss this season came in a closely-fought 30-27 defeat at New England on Oct. 13.
The bye week has allowed New Orleans to heal and recharge for the 2013 season's stretch run. New Orleans will look to continue a trend where they have won four consecutive contests coming off of their bye. The Saints' success has combined sterling efforts by the offense, defense and special teams units with several rookie and veteran newcomers across the board. The play of solid returning veterans has also been a key aspect of the club's improvement from a 2-4 start in 2012.
On offense, quarterback Drew Brees has continued to bring leadership to a unit that is currently ranked sixth in the NFL. He's completed 157-of-237 passes (66.2%) for 1,958 yards with 14 touchdowns, only five interceptions and a 102.6 passer rating, ranked fifth in the league.
Tight end Jimmy Graham is the club's leading receiver, enjoying one of the most dynamic seasons in NFL history for a tight end, recording 37 receptions for 593 yards (16.0 avg.) with six touchdowns.
In addition to Graham, the duo of Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas lead the NFL in receiving for an NFL running back position group, combining for 69 receptions for 561 yards and three touchdowns. The speedy Sproles currently leads the team and ranks fourth in the NFL with 769 all-purpose yards. Leading the wideouts are Marques Colston, who has 24 catches for 324 yards (13.5 avg.) with one touchdown and rookie Kenny Stills, who has posted 10 receptions for 198 yards (19.8 avg.), including a fourth quarter 34-yard touchdown grab in the last game at New England.
The defense has been led by the trio of safety Malcolm Jenkins, defensive end Cameron Jordan and inside linebacker Curtis Lofton. Jenkins, voted a team captain for the second consecutive season, has filled up the stat sheet with 27 tackles (18 solo), 2.5 sacks, one interception, three passes defensed and two forced fumbles. Jordan has proven to be a perfect fit for the new scheme, leading the club with five sacks. Lofton, voted a defensive team captain alongside Jenkins, is the club's leading tackler with 53 stops (29 solo), adding a sack, two passes defensed and a forced fumble.
The Saints are hosting their fourth game of the regular season after starting the year in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for three of their first four contests, running up a 3-0 mark inside their home stadium. After this week's contest, the Saints will close out their AFC East slate with a trip to the New York Jets.