The red-hot 10-3 Saints, winners of six straight games, travel to ice-cold Baltimore on Sunday afternoon for a marquee non-conference matchup against the 9-4 Ravens.
Here's what I'll be watching for from inside the cozy M&T Bank Stadium press box:
1. The Super Bowl hero: Ed Reed doesn't think the Saints are Super Bowl champions anymore. "They're not the Super Bowl team from last year," the Ravens safety said. But it's hard to forget about the sparkling performance of Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees, also a "Madden" cover boy and Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year. Brees carried New Orleans to its first Super Bowl title, and right now, he's playing at a similar level, ranking second in the NFL in touchdowns (28) and third in passing yards (3,855). New Orleans has scored at least 30 points in five straight games, and if Houston's Matt Schaub was able to light up the Baltimore secondary last week, you've got to be concerned about what Brees will be able to do.
2. The crumbling offensive line: One of the primary reasons for the Ravens' offensive struggles against the Texans was the play of their revamped offensive line. With Marshal Yanda moved to right guard and Oniel Cousins plugged in at right tackle, quarterback Joe Flacco was sacked five times and hit on four other occasions. The Texans had eight tackles for a loss. Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who has a bevy of exotic blitz packages, had to be licking his chops when watching Monday night's game.
3. New Orleans' X-factor: Saints running back Reggie Bush lost two months of the season to a broken leg, but his touches have increased in each of the three games since his return to the lineup. The dual-threat weapon has the speed and shiftiness out of the backfield and the slot to create serious matchup problems for the Ravens' linebackers, who aren't the fleetest of foot and have struggled with their tackling at times.
4. TU v. T-Sizzle: Jermon Bushrod, whom I covered when he played his college ball at Towson, went from being a small-school project player to the Saints' starting left tackle in Super Bowl XLIV. "[He has been] playing at a high level against really good pass rushers, just like he's going to go up against this week," Brees said. On Sunday, Bushrod will be tasked with shutting down Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs. With 6.5 sacks in his past six games, Suggs is one of the hottest pass rushers in the NFL.
5. Weather will be a factor: The Saints, who play their home games inside the Superdome, are 3-3 under coach Sean Payton when playing in cold-weather cities in December. Considering we all had to dig our cars out of waist-high snow twice last winter, I'm pretty sure Baltimore falls into that category. Temperatures are supposed to be in the 30s on Sunday, and it could be windy. Those conditions could take some of the air out of the Saints third-ranked passing attack. "Whatever the conditions are, we'll just have to adapt and adjust," Brees said. Advantage: Baltimore.