Ravens keeping an open mind

This Sunday will be a meeting of cross-conference opponents between the Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints at the Superdome. Both teams come off their week seven bye weeks on opposite ends of the spectrum. Of course the Saints are the surprise team so far this year and the Ravens are a team of questions than praise.

The Ravens, who opened with four straight wins before stumbling into the break with defeats at Denver and at home to Carolina, begin the post-bye slate with an issue at quarterback, where starter Steve McNair is listed as questionable with the lingering effects of a concussion suffered against the Panthers on October 15th.
McNair was shelved after being sacked by Carolina's Chris Draft and Mike Rucker late in the first quarter of the 23-21 loss. Former starter Kyle Boller entered the game upon McNair's departure and was 17-og 31 for 226 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. He figures to get the nod if the veteran is unable to go.
In concurrent flux with the quarterback position, the team's offensive coordinator role had gone through an unexpected change with the dismissal of Jim Fassel. Ravens coach Brian Billick said he would handle the play calling duties in Fassel's absence, while quarterbacks coach Rick Neuheisel would remain in his post.
Baltimore's offense is averaging 18.3 points per game through six competitions, but that per week clip has dropped slightly in the two losses. The Ravens scored 86 points in the four victories but just mustered 24 points combined against the Broncos and Panthers.
Still the Ravens, at 4-2, are tied with the Cincinnati Bengals atop the AFC North Division. They have won four straight games coming off bye weeks, the second longest active streak in the league behind Philadelphia's seven in a row. On the other side of the ball, the New Orleans Saints look to begin the second part of their surprising run as the new NFL's America's team in 2006. The Saints sped to the break with defeats of Tampa Bay and Philadelphia and holds a one game lead in the highly competitive NFC South Division.
Not all the Saints are marching healthy this week. Running back Duece McAllister, who missed most of last season with a knee injury, has been troubled this year with a nagging hamstring injury that has him listed as probable. Also veteran tight end Ernie Conwell is expected to miss the game with a knee problem.
A win for New Orleans would give it a 4-0 start at home for the first time since winning the NFC West in 1991. It would give rookie head coach Sean Payton the best start in franchise history by a new coach.
The Ravens are 2-1 all time against the Saints, with all three of those matchups taking place in Baltimore. In the last meeting, in 2002, New Orleans took a 37-25 decision. The Ravens were home winners over New Orleans in both 1996 and 1999. The Ravens traveled to play the Saints during the 2005 preseason, in a game that would mark the Saints' last game at the Superdome prior to the devastation occurrences caused by Hurricane Katrina.
Sean A. Stinnett writes for football.com and is a producer at WNST 1570 in Baltimore, Maryland.

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