Turning Things Around

The New Orleans Saints' recent surge has turned their season around and may have revived the lofty expectations that preceded it.

The Saints, though, will be in for a challenge as they try for their fourth straight victory Sunday when they host the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Oddsmakers from Bodog.com have made New Orleans -3 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday's game, the over/under has been set at 40 total points (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 55% of bets for this game have been placed on New Orleans -3 (View NFL Football bet percentages).

New Orleans (3-4) won 31-10 at San Francisco on Sunday for its third consecutive win after starting 0-4 on a season filled with expectations as high as a trip to the Super Bowl after the team reached the NFC Championship game in 2006.

Now a game from .500, the Saints have climbed their way back into the NFC South race, just one game behind first-place Carolina.

"This has been a pretty steady group of guys that have been working hard and are committed to winning,'' Saints coach Sean Payton said. "We have guys who understand how much work we have to do still and how difficult this is.''

That starts Sunday against Jacksonville (5-2), which is coming off a 24-23 win at Tampa Bay.

Jacksonville looks for its fifth straight win over an NFC team, while the Saints will try to avoid a sixth consecutive defeat to an AFC club. Sunday will be the teams' first meeting since Jacksonville's 20-19 home win on Dec. 21, 2003.

"We're going to have to play better than we played (last) weekend,'' Payton said. "We're going to have to play one of our best games to beat this team.''

That likely means quarterback Drew Brees must continue to perform well. Brees was 31-for-39 for a season-high 336 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions against the 49ers.

Brees, the runner-up to San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson for MVP last season, has thrown eight touchdowns and one interceptions while posting a 113.0 passer rating during the winning streak. He had just one TD pass while being intercepted nine times with a 57.4 rating in the first four games.

New Orleans has outscored its opponents 81-43 in its last three games after being outscored 119-51 the first four.

Brees has played well in going 1-1 against the Jaguars, completing 61.2 percent of his passes for 507 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions while with San Diego.

He should be looking for second-year receiver Marques Colston, who had eight catches for a season-high 85 yards and three TDs versus San Francisco after totaling two scoring receptions his first six games.

"He's a big target and he's someone who each week we want to involve in the plan,'' Payton said of the 6-foot-4 Colston. "Again, the expectation level that he has and I have for him is high.''

Expectations continue to be high for the Jaguars, who look to post their best start through eight games since opening 7-1 in 1999.

To do that Jacksonville looks to play better on defense, where it has allowed 52 points in its last two contests after conceding only 58 in its first five.

The Jaguars could be without defensive tackle Marcus Stroud, who according to local newspaper and radio reports is facing a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's steroids and related substances policy. The three-time Pro Bowler, who has 29 tackles and three sacks, practiced this week with the intention of playing Sunday.

"I'll be there Sunday,'' Stroud said. "I'm not here to squash rumors. I'm here to play ball. Whatever happens will happen. But right now, I'm going to focus on New Orleans. I have no comment on anything else.''

Jacksonville, which is already thin on the defensive line after tackle Tony McDaniel was placed on injured reserve, signed veteran Grady Jackson on Wednesday after he was surprisingly released by Atlanta last week.

Third-year quarterback Quinn Gray went 7-for-16 for 100 yards and a touchdown in his first career start in place of the injured David Garrard last Sunday.

Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio isn't asking Gray to do much except avoid mistakes and play smart. The offense helped by rushing for 133 yards, but had just 219 total yards against Tampa Bay.

"Obviously we did things to minimize the burden that was going to be placed on him, knew that we wanted to play to our defense and run the ball,'' Del Rio said. "He's 1-0.''

Fred Taylor struggled for just 68 yards on 24 carries last Sunday and is still looking for his first touchdown. He needs 67 rushing yards to become just the 21st player in NFL history to reach 10,000.

Jacksonville is 2-1 all-time versus New Orleans, with the lone loss 17-13 on Oct. 6, 1996 at the Superdome.

By: Staff Writers - Email Us

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