Saints hope to stay perfect at home

While Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints are ready to return and make their push for the postseason, Eli Manning and the New York Giants are again having trouble in the second half of a season.

Brees will try to help the Saints remain perfect at home Monday night and hand Manning and the sputtering Giants a third straight loss.

Most sports books monitored by the SportsOptions odds product have installed the Saints as 7 1/2-point home favorites, with the total set at 51.

New Orleans (7-3) has not played since a 26-23 overtime win at Atlanta on Nov. 13. The Saints are 4-0 at home, where they’ll be for the majority of their games the rest of the way as they try to maintain a one-game NFC South lead over the Falcons.

“Four of the next six games at home … and this is our opportunity to try to separate ourselves and really establish our position both in our division and in the conference,” Brees said.

New York (6-4) held a two-game NFC East lead before losses the last two weeks to San Francisco and Philadelphia have helped surging Dallas take a one-half game lead in the division. The Giants managed season lows of 29 yards rushing and 278 of total offense in their lowest-scoring effort of the year, a 17-10 loss to the Eagles last Sunday night.

It’s been a common theme for the Giants, who had late-season collapses the last two seasons to miss the playoffs. They have turned in worse second halves than first halves in each of coach Tom Coughlin’s first seven seasons.

“It is not going to be the history, believe me,” Coughlin said. “I know that this is something fanatically involved with all of you but each team is a new team and each year is a new year.”

This contest centers around both quarterbacks, former Super Bowl MVPs who figure to have strong efforts since New Orleans’ defense ranks 20th overall and New York’s is 21st.

Brees leads the NFL with 3,326 yards passing and his 23 touchdown passes are the league’s third-most. He’s 3-0 in his career against the Giants, with seven touchdowns, no interceptions and a 65.5 completion percentage with his team winning by an average of 22.0 points.

Brees is eager to play after coach Sean Payton gave the Saints eight days off for the bye.

“We have enough of a veteran team now, and leadership and character, and guys just knowing the right thing to do to take care of themselves and make sure they’re prepared and ready when we come back,” Brees said.

Manning will play in the city he grew up for the second time. He completed 14 of 31 passes for 178 yards, one touchdown and one interception in a 48-27 loss in New Orleans two seasons ago while Brees threw four touchdowns.

“I know it’s not easy playing there,” Manning said. “It’s a loud stadium and we have to try to do our best to concentrate well. We have to try not to let the crowd get into the game. We have to start fast and then not allow them to get big plays.”

Manning leads the league with a 120.5 fourth-quarter passer rating and is sixth in the NFL with 18 TD passes. He’s already been sacked 19 times – three more than last season – as the Giants’ revamped offensive line continues to struggle.

That unit will be without left tackle Will Beatty, scheduled to have surgery to repair a detached retina in his right eye. David Diehl could move back to left tackle, with Kevin Boothe moving in as left guard.

The line is a major factor why the Giants own the NFL’s second-worst rushing attack at 83.2 yards per game. Top running back Ahmad Bradshaw could return after missing three games with a broken bone in his right foot.

“Actually, this line has gotten better in the previous games coming into this (Philadelphia) game and we continue to do that,” Coughlin insisted. “We did not play well the other night and hopefully we will go right back to it.”

The Saints, meanwhile, have a stable of running backs to choose from to complement Brees and the passing game. Either rookie Mark Ingram or second-year pro Chris Ivory will be inactive despite being healthy, with the other joining veterans Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles on the active roster.

“This discussion we’re having is a good one,” Payton said. “It’s something we sought to start the year – that depth and that competition.”

New Orleans ranks eighth in the league in yards per carry at 4.6 compared to New York’s league-worst 3.2 mark.

The Giants have an edge with a pass rush that is tied for the most sacks in the league with 31. Their defense will be hampered, however, if middle linebacker Michael Boley misses a second straight game with a hamstring strain.

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