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High-powered Saints visit struggling Raiders

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High-powered Saints visit struggling Raiders

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) The New Orleans Saints have overcome an 0-4 start and the distractions from the bounty scandal to fight their way right back into position for a possible late-season playoff run.

First they have to get their record back to .500.

All that stands between the high-powered Saints and that modest goal is a struggling Oakland Raiders team that has allowed 97 points the past two weeks and matched a franchise-worst for points allowed in last week's 55-20 loss at Baltimore.

``Man, if Baltimore can put up 55, you don't even want to see what New Orleans can do,'' Raiders defensive tackle Tommy Kelly said.

The Saints (4-5) have done quite a bit since the 0-4 start under a cloud from the bounty allegations that led to a season-long suspension for coach Sean Payton and other punishments that have been a distraction all year. With four wins in the past five games, including a 31-27 victory last week over previously unbeaten Atlanta, New Orleans has worked its way back into contention.

But there is little margin for error. The schedule gets much tougher after Sunday's game in Oakland (3-6) with the following three games against division leaders, meaning the Saints can ill-afford a slipup against the struggling Raiders.

``When you dig yourself a hole like we have, every game you play is going to be critical,'' interim coach Joe Vitt said. ``Anything other than our best effort and we're going to have a long Sunday.''

The Saints have been close to their best in recent weeks. After uncharacteristically throwing five interceptions the first three games, Drew Brees has completed 71 percent of his passes the last two weeks with five TDs and only one interception. The running game, energized by Chris Ivory, has produced 288 yards on the ground the past two weeks.

And even the porous defense has stepped up of late, holding Philadelphia to 13 points two weeks ago and coming up with the late goal-line stand that sealed the win against the Falcons.

``They're back in the groove,'' Raiders cornerback Ron Bartell said. ``They're doing what they normally do. ... He's putting up huge numbers. They're doing a better job of protecting him. He's getting the ball out of his hands. His receivers are making plays. Basically the normal New Orleans Saints offense.''

Which is what's so scary for the Raiders.

The Raiders have been up-and-down defensively this season, getting gashed on the ground early in the season by Miami and then getting overwhelmed by Peyton Manning and Denver before a bye week.

Oakland then put together a fairly strong three-week stretch, holding down Matt Ryan and the Falcons to one offensive touchdown and beating one-win Jacksonville and Kansas City in back-to-back weeks.

But the last two weeks have been as bad as it's ever been defensively in Oakland. Tampa Bay rookie Doug Martin ran for 251 yards in a 42-32 win two weeks ago. That was followed by the drubbing in Baltimore when Joe Flacco picked the Raiders apart for 341 yards and three touchdowns as the Ravens matched the most points ever allowed by the Raiders.

``I know the team that we're going to face is not the team that gave up 55 points last week or 42 points against Tampa,'' Brees said.

``It's a play here, it's a play there, it's a big play here, a big play there that can typically affect the outcome of a game. This defense has a lot of very talented players on it. They have played very, very well at times. I know that, for us, we're going to have to play our best game and worry about our execution, and that's what we're focused on.''

That Oakland is struggling so much on defense comes as a bit of a surprise for the Saints, who know Oakland first-year coach Dennis Allen so well. Allen spent five years as a defensive assistant in New Orleans, helping the team win the Super Bowl following the 2009 season as defensive backs coach.

After spending one year as defensive coordinator in Denver the 40-year-old Allen got his first head coaching gig this year in Oakland.

``He deserves it, man,'' Saints safety Roman Harper said. ``He's a great coach. He understands everything it takes to win and I know he'll get those guys going. They've had some ups and downs but at the end of the day that's going to happen, especially when you're a new coach somewhere. He's going to have them just fine though.''

Allen coached four years in Atlanta before joining Payton's first staff on the Saints in 2006. He credited that experience with getting him to where he is now.

``I started coaching in the NFL in Atlanta, but I grew up in the NFL in New Orleans,'' he said. ``I got a lot of good memories there, and we were able to win a championship. So it was a big part of my development as a coach.''

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AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in Metairie, La., contributed to this report

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Ravens' No. 1 run defense will have its hands full with LeGarrette Blount

Ravens' No. 1 run defense will have its hands full with LeGarrette Blount

One of the Ravens’ toughest challenges Monday night will be trying to contain Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount. The Ravens have the NFL’s top-ranked run defense, yielding just 73.8 yards per game. Blount is fifth in the league in rushing (957 yards) and is one of the NFL’s most physical backs.

Jay Ajayi of the Dolphins had 61 yards on 12 carries against the Ravens on Sunday, and his run style is similar to Blount’s. Ravens defensive tackle Brandon Williams talked about the pride the Ravens take in stopping the run after Sunday’s game.

“We’re the No. 1 run defense in the league right now,” Williams said. “That’s what we do. When running backs come against us, we just do our jobs.”

It will be interesting to see how the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady attack the Ravens. With tight end Rob Gronkowski done for the year with a back injury, Blount figures to be a major part of the Patriots’ game plan.

Blount already has four 100-yard games and is about to top 1,000 yards for only the second time in his career. Will Blount have his way against the Ravens’ No. 1-ranked defense? The answer to that question will play a key role in determining which team wins.

MORE: Joe Flacco can taste the playoffs

 

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Fantasy Football: Finding Playoff Help In Week 14 Waiver Wire

Fantasy Football: Finding Playoff Help In Week 14 Waiver Wire

Week 14 of the fantasy football season means owners are entering the playofs or battling for a berth. Well, some are shakng their heads at Adrian Peterson, DeAndre Hopkins and Eddie Lacy and wondering how it all went so wrong, but let's focus on those still alive or glory. Week 14 also means it's time for two lineup reminders:

1) Don't overthink things: Just because Brock Osweiler has by far the easier matchup on paper don't you dare start him over Andrew Luck.

2) Leave stubborn behind: Yes, you drafted Todd Gurley in the first round. Yes, you're feeling like a boss for stashing Dion Lewis. Yes, Dak Prescott is awesome and only you believed in him from Jump Street. That doesn't mean you MUST start them. Use that brain of yours to assess the scene in terms of production and matchup.

Either way, the Waiver Wire remains a viable tool, even if just to prevent others owners from getting help. Here's a look at some of that potential help.

Quarterbacks 

1.  Joe Flacco, BAL vs. Patriots
 
2.  Trevor Siemien, DEN vs. Titans
 
* More than likely you're set at QB so consider this just the writer doing his due dillegance. I'll assume Andy Dalton (vs. Browns) isn't available, which leaves two other AFC options as your best hope if in need. Flacco is coming off a monster and now faces a situation where he could be in catch-up mode during the second half against New England. As for Siemien, who missed last week with an injury, he gets a Tennessee defense allowing the sixth most points to fantasy quarterbacks and at least two touchdown tosses for seven straight weeks.

Running Backs

1. Mike Gillislee, BUF vs. Steelers

2. Jacquizz Rodgers, TB vs. Saints

3.  Kenneth Dixon, BAL vs. Patriots

4. Rex Burkhead, CIN vs. Browns

Others: Charles Sims, TB;  Justin Forsett, DEN, Shane Vereen, NYG

* No screaming must adds, intrigue exists. Gillislee has four rushing touchdowns over the last four weeks with rushing totals of  85, 32, 72 and 49 yards in that span. ...The Bucs backfield is possibly for grabs after Doug Martin sat out the final three drives in Week 13. ... Jeremy Hill likely leads Cincinnati in attempts against Cleveland, but Burkhead should be all kinds of active in the regular game plan and possible garbage time. 
 
Wide Receivers 

1.  Pierre Garcon, WAS at Eagles
 
2.  Malcolm Mitchell, NE vs. Ravens

3. Adam Thielen, MIN vs. Jaguars
 
4.  Dontrelle Inman, SD at Panthers

5. Tyler Lockett, SEA at Packers
 
5.  Ted Ginn, CAR vs. Chargers
 
* If you like your otther lineup options and need safe help at receiver, look at Garcon (At least 6-67 in four of last five weeks) and Thielen (7 for 89 in Week 13). Mitchell (17 catches, 222 yards and three touchdowns over last three games), Inman, Lockett and Ginn, have higher ceilings.

Tight Ends 

1.  Gary Barnidge, CLE vs. Bengals
 
2.  Dennis Pitta, BAL at Patriots
 
3.  Lance Kendricks, LA vs. Falcons
 
* The Barnidge recommednation isn't about the expected return of Robert Griffin II -- as if -- but facing a Bengals defense allowing the second most points to fantasy tight ends.
 
Defenses – Because you stream this position

1. 49ers (vs. Jets)

2. Colts (vs.Texans)

3. Jets (at 49ers)

* For those already in the playoffs, look ahead to Week 15 and 16 for possible additions.

MORE NFL: Hungry Flacco can almost taste the playoffs