WHEN: Noon, Sunday
WHERE: The Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans
RADIO: WWL-AM, 870 in New Orleans; KMDL-FM, 97.3 in Lafayette; WDGL-FM, 98.1 in Baton Rouge
RECORDS: The Bengals are 5-3-1. The Saints are 4-5.
LAST WEEK: Struggling Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton went 10-of-33 on his throws for a meager 86 yards and three interceptions to post a comically low 2.0 passer rating as visiting Cleveland pummeled Cincinnati 24-3 on Nov. 6. Meanwhile, the Saints lost to the visiting 49ers 27-24 on an overtime field goal. It was the second time this season the Saints lost on an overtime field goal; the fourth time this year New Orleans was defeated by a margin of three points or fewer; and the first time the team had suffered a setback at the Superdome with Sean Payton coaching them since the end of the 2010 campaign.
COACHES: Bengals, Marvin Lewis, 12th season (95-88-2); Saints, Sean Payton, 8th season (77-44)
Offensive stats, per game (league rank in parentheses)
Total yards: Saints, 435.0 (2nd); Bengals, 339.8 (20th)
Rushing: Saints, 130.2 (6th); Bengals, 117.4 (12th)
Passing: Saints, 304.8 (3rd); Bengals, 222.3 (21st)
Points: Saints, 27.9 (6th); Bengals, 21.9 (T-18th)
Defensive stats, per game (league rank in parentheses)
Total yards: Saints, 366 (19th); Bengals, 391.9 (30th)
Rushing: Saints, 106.8 (11th); Bengals, 143 (31st)
Passing: Saints, 259.2 (24th); Bengals, 248.9 (20th)
Points: Saints, 25 (22nd); Bengals, 23.4 (T-18th)
Bengals: QB Andy Dalton, RB Giovani Bernard, RB Jeremy Hill, WR Mohamed Sanu, DE Carlos Dunlap, LB Emmanuel Lamur, S George Iloka
Saints: QB Drew Brees, RB Mark Ingram, TE Jimmy Graham, WR Brandin Cooks, LB Junior Galette, DE Cameron Jordan, CB Keenan Lewis
Offense: Dalton has been woefully underwhelming this year — he’s thrown more interceptions (nine) than he has touchdown passes (eight), and his passer rating of 78 is the worst among the 23 NFL quarterbacks who’ve taken at least 75 percent of their team’s snaps this season, according to the website Pro Football Focus.
That leaves the Bengals’ best production on offense to come from the ground via running backs Giovani Bernard (109 carries for 446 yards) and rookie Jeremy Hill (86 carries for 404 yards), who stood out at LSU in 2012 and 2013. Each has five touchdowns this season — one of Bernard’s scores was from 89 yards out, and one of Hill’s was from 60 yards out, indicating an explosiveness the Saints’ run stoppers must be wary of.
Defense: This is a defense that hasn’t done much to slow down opponents this year; however, there’s individual talent for which the Saints must account. Though he’s slowed down since opening the season with a sack in three straight weeks, Carlos Dunlap has been a cut above the rest of his teammate’s pass rushers with 4.5 sacks on the year.
Furthermore, with three interceptions, safety George Iloka leads a Bengals secondary that’s averaged slightly more than an interception per game with 10 picks. That could be a tricky unit to navigate for Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who has thrown 10 picks so far this season, or slightly more than an interception per game.
Special teams: Bengals kicker Mike Nugent has been shaky this year. He’s 15-of-21 on field goals, or 71 percent, which is tied for 29th in the NFL. Four of his misses are from medium range (between 30 and 49 yards out), and he’s 0-for-2 from 50+ out.
There’s better news for Cincinnati returning kicks. The 26.7 yards they average on kick returns and the 11.8 yards they average on punt returns are fifth and tied for fifth, respectively. Notorious veteran return specialist Adam “Pac Man” Jones has a 97-yard kickoff return to his name this season, showing he could be handful at any moment.
—The Saints’ Sean Payton and his Bengals counterpart, Marvin Lewis, have split the two meetings they’ve had as NFL head coaches. The Bengals won in New Orleans in 2006, and the Saints triumphed in Cincinnati in 2010.
Yet neither of those games was the most famous Payton and Lewis have experienced on opposite sidelines. A Ravens defense Lewis was coordinating in the Super Bowl at the end of the 2000 NFL season forced a Giants offense Payton was coordinating to punt 11 times and turn the ball over another four times to key a Baltimore win that day.
—Things that connect the Saints to their opponents each week are myriad, but here are a some notable links between New Orleans and the Bengals: Cincinnati defensive tackle Geno Atkins is the son of ex-Saints safety Gene Atkins (1987-1993), and New Orleans kicker Shayne Graham played for the Bengals from 2003 to 2009.
Also, earlier this season, Payton purchased 100 jerseys of Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still, whose daughter, Leah, is battling pediatric cancer. Proceeds from sales of Stills’ jersey benefitted pediatric cancer care and research. A father himself, Payton later joked that Still could avoid sacking Brees when the Saints and the Bengals played each other as a token of gratitude.