Sun Sentinel
National Football League
                  === Surging Saints visit reeling Raiders ===
 (Sports Network) - The Oakland Raiders may not mind hosting the New Orleans
 Saints, but it's a safe bet they'd have rather gotten the premiere version
 than the sequel.
 Because as bad as Drew Brees and Co. looked in going 0-for-September, they've
 looked at least that good while winning four of five games to get back into a
 muddled NFC postseason conversation.
 And while the South Division title remains four games away with just seven
 remaining, the Saints did make a statement last week by being the first team
 to defeat the now 8-1 Atlanta Falcons in 2012 -- doing so by 31-27 decision at
 the Superdome.
 They visit the Bay Area this weekend with eyes on a season-best third straight
 triumph, which would bring with it a coveted .500 record.
 "That's something we feel like we're capable of and we envisioned being able
 to do that, because we know the type of team we have," Brees said. "We knew we
 dug ourselves a hole. We knew we had a mountain to climb, but we also knew we
 have the right type of people. Good things are starting to happen."
 Brees has thrown 15 touchdowns and four interceptions in the five-game
 recovery phase, and netted 298 yards and three scores against the Falcons.
 That said, the defense allowed 400 yards for the ninth straight game, in spite
 of a smothering that left Atlanta's Michael Turner with just 15 on 13 run
 Optimistically, though, a goal-line stand in the fourth quarter did secure the
 win, New Orleans' 13th in a row in November.
 "(It) was a direct result of how hard this team has worked from Day 1, when I
 wasn't here," interim coach Joe Vitt said. "This team has weathered the storm,
 stuck together and not pointed fingers, and they are trying to get better
 every day."
 The Saints are 2-1 under Vitt's leadership after going 2-4 while he was
 serving a six-game suspension related to the bounty scandal uncovered in the
 offseason. The renaissance has included a return to the run game, which
 yielded 148 yards against the Falcons a week after gaining 140 against
 Since 2010, the Saints are 1-9 when they run 20 or fewer times and 27-4 when
 it's 21 or more.
 "We're playing more together," left tackle Jermon Bushrod said. "We're just
 fighting to play more consistent up front. At the end of the day, the first
 few weeks, we weren't getting the job done. We had too many breakdowns. If we
 continue to get this running game going, we can open up our playbook a little
 bit more."
 Running back Chris Ivory returned two weeks ago after seven weeks of
 inactivity and has rushed for 120 yards, scored twice and averaged 7.1 yards
 per carry in two games. He'll probably continue to get work this week in the
 absence of Darren Sproles, who could miss a third straight game with a broken
 "(Ivory is) a beast," Brees said. "He's a rare combination of speed and
 For the Raiders, oft-injured running back Darren McFadden may be out for a
 second straight week with a sprained ankle, though the Raiders' more immediate
 concerns surround a defense that's been embarrassed to the tune of 97 points
 in its last two games.
 Oakland gave up 42 points in a home loss to Tampa Bay two weeks ago -- along
 with 278 rush yards -- then tied a club record by allowing 55 to the Baltimore
 Ravens last week.
 "That outcome was unacceptable," said coach Dennis Allen, a former Saints
 assistant. "We have to be better than that. I wish there was a magical answer.
 I know everybody wants a magical, 'This is the solution,' but at the end of
 the day, and I've said this over and over, it's about us doing our job the
 right way every single time. And when we develop that consistency, when we've
 had that consistency, we've played well in all three phases. But that's the
 key to having success."
 Adding to the potential misery this week is New Orleans tight end Jimmy
 Graham, who had seven catches for 146 yards last week and has scored four TDs
 in his last three games.
 Brees completed 26 of 30 passes for 320 yards and three TDs in beating the
 Raiders when they last played in 2008. He's won six straight starts against
 Oakland while with the Saints and San Diego.
 The all-time series is even at 5-5-1, though New Orleans has won three of the
 last four. Neither Vitt nor Allen has ever faced this week's opponent.
 Among the last things a defense that's given up 97 points in two weeks and is
 24th of 32 teams against the pass would want to encounter is a prolific
 quarterback like Brees, but that's exactly what the Raiders find themselves
 matched with.
 Oakland is allowing 255.9 yards through the air per week, while allowing
 opposing QBs to complete 66 percent of their throws and managing a measly 11
 sacks. Expect a maximum spotlight on cornerbacks Phillip Adams and Joselio
 Hanson, especially after starter Pat Lee was waived following the debacle
 against Baltimore and Shawntae Spencer went on injured reserve.
 The Saints' difficult start might make them less of a favorite going into a
 long road trip to California, but the edition that's been showing up lately --
 when combined with the struggles the Raiders have had stopping even the most
 middling of offenses -- doesn't figure to leave Oakland with anything less
 than a .500-gaining victory.
 Sports Network predicted outcome: Saints 27, Raiders 14
 11/16 09:23:11 ET