With so much attention focused on the New Orleans Saints being undefeated, it would be easy to overlook the fact that they are on the verge of clinching the NFC South.
The Saints look to win their second division title in four years when they visit the lowly Washington Redskins on Sunday.
New Orleans (11-0) is one of two unbeaten teams, along with Indianapolis. The Saints continued their dominating play with a 38-17 win over New England on Monday night.
New Orleans’ ninth victory by double digits came against the only franchise to go undefeated during a 16-game regular season.
“People are going to talk about this game and maybe blow it out of proportion a little bit,” said Drew Brees(notes), who threw for 371 yards and five touchdowns. “This game doesn’t entitle us to anything. It’s just another win in the win column. If anything, you have the challenge of coming back on a short week and playing at Washington. That’s what I mean when I say it gets tougher.”
The Saints, though, handled one of their most difficult remaining opponents in impressive fashion. They host Dallas on Dec. 19, but in addition to Washington (3-8), face Carolina and Tampa Bay - a combined 5-17 - in their other two contests.
The Saints are averaging league bests of 37.0 points and 433.9 yards per game, led by Brees, who tops the NFL with 27 touchdowns and is coming off one of his best games of the season.
He averaged a season-high 16.1 yards per pass against the Patriots while completing a season-best 78.3 percent of his throws. His 20-yard touchdown pass to Marques Colston(notes) in the fourth quarter gave the Saints 407 points and kept them on pace to eclipse New England’s record of 589 set in 2007.
“He was special,” coach Sean Payton said. “Let’s just say he’s playing very well.”
Payton’s team can wrap up the division with a win or a loss by Atlanta. The Saints and Brees, though, have not fared well against the Redskins.
New Orleans lost its last two games versus Washington, falling 29-24 at FedEx Field on Sept. 14, 2008. The Saints have dropped four of the last six matchups and are 7-15 all time against the Redskins.
Brees has thrown six interceptions and one touchdown in three starts versus Washington.
The Redskins managed to put a scare into their last two opponents, falling 7-6 to Dallas before blowing an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter and losing 27-24 at Philadelphia on Sunday.
“It’s hard to come back after a loss like we had last week and this week,” coach Jim Zorn said. “I hope that we talk sense and sanity into what we find ourselves in. And that’s difficult.”
Five of Washington’s losses were decided by seven points or less.
Jason Campbell(notes) had 231 yards passing and two touchdowns last week, but threw two interceptions. The Redskins are also depleted by injury, with defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth(notes) (ankle), running back Clinton Portis(notes) (concussion), tight end Chris Cooley(notes) (ankle) and cornerback DeAngelo Hall(notes) (sprained MCL) sitting out last week.
Washington figures to be short-handed again. Hall is doubtful while Haynesworth returned to practice but remains questionable. Portis has been declared out after visiting a specialist Monday and will miss his fourth straight game.
The Redskins have been unable to run the ball effectively all season, and losing Portis has not helped. They rushed for 82 yards last weekend - the sixth time they were held to less than 90.
Zorn admitted this week that it is hard for his team to stay optimistic as it sits on the verge of clinching its second losing season in four years. Washington plays three of its final five games at home, where it is 3-2.
“I’m going to call for them to dig down deep,” Zorn said. “They’ve been doing that all year, and I’m not trying to create any fantasy that’s not there. We kind of know what the real situation is for us.
“These have been excellent players. I’m very proud of our football team. I’m very proud of the way that they’ve played.”