Winning on the road in the NFL is never easy. Several studies have shown conclusively that a combination of distance travelled and climate change makes it tougher.
It is too simplistic – and often too easy – for pundits and punters to offer up noise levels in a hostile environment as an excuse. Any evidence to suggest noise is a factor is more anecdotal than empirical, although Seattle’s raucous fans (known as the twelfth man) and opposing teams will argue otherwise.
Seven teams have to face three consecutive road games in 2011.
Since 1990, there have been 110 three-game road trips. Only nine teams managed to win all three games.
Thirty teams went 2-1 and 71 had losing experiences in those stretches, 18 of whom went 0-3.
Following victories at Jacksonville and Carolina, the New Orleans Saints will attempt to win in Tampa on their third road trip in as many games on Sunday.
The Buccaneers suffered a worse beating at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers last week than a protester on the streets of Yemin.
Tampa are a game behind New Orleans in the NFC South, where homefield advantage doesn’t appear to count for much, certainly in this rivalry. Both teams have won in each other’s stadiums in the last two seasons, the Saints recording a 31-6 win in Tampa last October, where they have a 10-6 record since 1978.
The Bucs are not well supported at home, which perhaps led to a 4-4 home record last year. They are 2-1 at Raymond James Stadium thus far in 2011, their wins coming over a depleted Indianapolis (by seven points) and a three-point squeaker over Atlanta. They also lost to Detroit.
While Drew Brees and the Saints appeared to be jaded in a less-than-impressive win at Jacksonville, the Bucs 48-3 in San Francisco was shocking.
The shellacking was hardly a great advert to sell next week’s Wembley clash with Chicago.
But fortunately we’d buy a ticket on the basis alone that the excellent Goo Goo Dolls will be performing) (and nothing whatsoever to do with the Tampa Bay Cheerleaders, who are a close second to the foxy Diane Lane in our list of delectable muses).
We digress. It’s what we do best. That… and drinking heavily.
What the Saints do best is pass the football. They haven’t even pretended to run for about a year. Why would you when you have Drew Brees at quarterback? Over his last 16 games, Brees has thrown at least 40 passes 12 times. This season his quarterback rating is a sky-high 102.3 and he’s completed at least 70 per cent of his passes in his last four games.
The Bucs are struggling and it is going to get worse before it gets better. They are allowing 6.1 yards per play, 25 points per game and managing only 14.4ppg themselves. The teams they beat –Atlanta, Indianapolis and Minnesota – have won just three of a combined 15 games.
Facing Chicago, Houston, Green Bay and the Saints (twice) in the next five games is no cakewalk (since you asked, a Cakewalk is a slave dance. Dance well, win a cake. You get the drift. Simon Cowell will use this as the basis of a new show, but we digress).
The Bucs will cause a few problems running the ball as the Saints are giving up 5.22 yards per attempt but while the percentages are loaded against the Saints winning three straight road games, after such an abject display in San Francisco, how can you not take on the Bucs?
Buffalo have been feasting on more turnovers than the giant apple variety found at Philadelphia’s famous Fourth Street Delicatessen (Note to Eagles coach Andy Reid: The next time Mike Vick decides to choke up four INTs, make him buy you one of these monsters for every turnover committed).
The Bills, who have more takeaways this season than the local Chinese restaurant, travel to New York to take on the Giants on Sunday.
They have a great record in the Meadowlands, winning on their last three visits and they head there with a good running game (4.97 yards per attempt). That could spell trouble for the Giants, who have been a pretty average 4.18ypa against the run this season.
Yet the team that rules the air will win and Eli Manning and the Giants have been very effective getting the ball down the field.
Sure, they lost at home to the awful Seahawks last week in one of the shocks of the season, which included a game-killing interception returned 94 yards for a touchdown.
How well the Giants’ defensive front holds up against Buffalo’s top-rated offensive hogs will go a long way to determining the outcome.
And until the Bills win against one of the NFL’s elite on the road (they have beaten Cincinnati and Kansas City), they cannot be considered legitimate playoff material.
But when you look at their schedule – they must navigate away games at the Cowboys, Dolphins (we’ll give you that one), Jets and Chargers, plus tough home games against the Jets, Redskins, and Titans – winning the AFC East is going to be a huge feat. One that looks beyond them.
Philadelphia, vanquished by Buffalo along with their pre-season ‘Dream Team’ tag, are in a desperate situation at 1-4. They travel to the 3-1 Washington Redskins, their NFC East rival, for a ‘must-win’ clash.
The Redskins’ much-improved pass defence will test Vick’s mettle, but it is their ground game that can hold sway against an average run defence.
While Rex Grossman gets to face one of the worst pass defences in the NFL, the Redskins’ passer will still be made to look more Chad Henne than Dan Marino.
While it might not be a rout like their 59-28 win in D.C. last season, Philadelphia should still win and cover the handicap.
If they don’t, stick a large fork in their season, for they’ll be done.
New Orleans -4.5
New York Giants -3
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