The New Orleans Saints (2-4) will take a two-game winning streak on the road Sunday night to face the Denver Broncos (3-3) and Peyton Manning, arguably the game's hottest quarterback over the last month.
Since throwing three first-quarter interceptions in a Monday night loss to the Atlanta Falcons, Manning has tossed 11 touchdowns against just one interception over his last four games. Manning has also went over 300 yards in each of last four weeks.
The Saints have rebounded after a disastrous 0-4 start, beating the San Diego Chargers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the last two games to keep their playoff chances from flatlining.
Here are five matchups that will help decide whether the Saints stretch their winning streak to three or the Broncos get on the right side of .500 Sunday night:
Broncos WR Brandon Stokley vs. Saints CB Corey White
According to Pro Football Focus, Stokley has played 97 percent of his snaps this season from the slot. He'll have a good matchup there Sunday night.
Covering Stokley will likely be White, who has allowed the highest passer rating in the NFL among cornerbacks who play 50 percent or more of their snaps in the slot. His yards allowed (302), yards allowed after the catch (145) and touchdowns allowed (two) are also the worst marks in the NFL among defensive backs covering the slot.
Look for Manning to target White if he's not given help with Stokley inside Sunday night. It's a plus matchup for the Broncos.
Broncos LB Wesley Woodyard vs. Saints TE Jimmy Graham
The Broncos have struggled to cover tight ends all season, and possibly the NFL's best receiver at the position will strut into Denver Sunday night.
While Graham (6'7") is still battling a bad ankle, he could very well add to the five touchdowns Denver has allowed to tight ends this season. Antonio Gates caught two touchdowns against this defense two weeks ago.
Woodyard, Von Miller and Danny Trevathan will take shots at covering Graham, but they'll each need help from safeties and cornerbacks to keep him from taking over this game. The Broncos can't afford to continue allowing tight ends to beat them in the red zone.
Broncos RB Willis McGahee vs. Saints Front Seven
While the Saints have been bad against the pass (30th in the NFL), they've been even worse against the run. Only the Buffalo Bills have allowed more yards a game on the ground than the Saints, who are giving up 161.0 rushing yards a contest in 2012.
McGahee hasn't cracked 100 yards in three games, but he should have that opportunity Sunday night. With the Saints likely having to commit defenders to the passing game to stop Manning and his trio of receivers, McGahee will have favorable fronts to pick apart.
If McGahee hits for over 100 yards, the sky is the limit for how many points the Broncos offense can score. A multi-dimensional attack is bad news for New Orleans.
Broncos LB Von Miller vs. Saints RT Zach Strief
The Broncos would seem to have a decided advantage rushing the passer off the right side, but Saints right tackle Zach Strief has actually rebounded and played much better the last three weeks. He'll have a difficult task Sunday night.
Von Miller, arguably the NFL's best strong-side linebacker this season, has produced 32 pressure plays (sacks, hurries and quarterback hits) in 2012, the most at his position. His lowest pressure production this season in one game has been a still-respectable four.
Strief, after allowing two sacks, one quarterback hit and seven hurries over the first three games, has given up just four hurries over the last three. If he can keep Brees clean of Miller, the Saints offense should be able to move up and down the field at will.
Broncos QB Peyton Manning vs. Saints QB Drew Brees
These two will never face each other on the field, but this game could come down to which quarterback has the ball last.
Manning and Brees have been two of the NFL's hottest quarterbacks as of late, combining for 14 total touchdown passes (Manning, six; Brees, eight) over the last two games. In a game that has shootout written all over it, the onus will be on each team's quarterback to outscore the other Sunday night.
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