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Ralph Malbrough / Contributing writer

I'll admit at 0-4 I didn't think the Saints would dig themselves out and be playing meaningful games after Thanksgiving but here we are. The formula for the Saints since 2009 is simple: Drew Brees plays awesome, add in a power run game, create turnovers, then get Crunk.

It took awhile in 2012 to get back to it and now the question is, 'Can they keep it up against the NFC's best teams?' They'll need to because their next three opponents combined record is 21-7-1. The Saints play only one team with a losing record the rest of 2012. If the Saints were 7-3 I'd think they had a tough road to the playoffs. At 5-5 it's brutal.

Let's hold off on playoff talk for a bit and enjoy the first beat down of 2012. Just because something is delivered to you exactly as you expected and hoped it would be doesn't mean it shouldn't be appreciated. That the Oakland Raiders are horrible and atrocious pretty much everywhere but kicker and punter is of no concern of ours.

The Saints went to Oakland and one play into the second half had their fifth win in six games wrapped up. They delivered their best performance of the year and the only real negative in the game was right tackle Charles Brown injuring his knee.

With the defense creating turnovers and scoring touchdowns somebody on Twitter asked if it was 2009? It sure felt like it. Malcolm Jenkins had an interception return for a score and Roman Harper had an interception in the end zone to stop another Oakland drive.

When the defense wasn't creating turnovers they were sacking Carson Palmer and creating really good pressure for the second time in three weeks. The defense has gone from not stopping anyone to stopping somebody, and even if that somebody is Oakland, it's a huge step in the right direction.

The Saints held Philadelphia to fewer points but the Eagles also gashed the Saints for over 200 yards rushing and a 70 yard touchdown pass. The Raiders weren't nearly as effective. Sure Oakland had 400 yards of offense, but yards are like coughing when you are sick. Sometimes they matter and sometimes they don't.

If I'm running a fever and have light cough it's not a big deal. If I feel fine and start coughing up blood it's a huge problem. Same thing with yards a defense allows. Once the Saints got up 28-7 all yards the Raiders gained became irrelevant.

The defense the Saints played yesterday is more than enough to win them games against anybody. The Raiders made some plays and gained some yards but the Saints didn't allow any quick easy touchdowns.

The defense even had a couple taunting penalties and the nastiness and swagger they seemed to find against Atlanta looks to have carried over. If the Saints defense needs to play with an edge, be borderline dirty and annoy opponents, I'm fine with it. Most of America thinks the Saints are bounty loving, kitten killer cheaters anyway. Might as well just own it at this point, especially if they need it to help them win. Teams with nothing but choir boys don't win in the NFL.

While the defense has made real strides the last three weeks the offense just continues to roll. The Saints had 28 runs and 28 passes against the Raiders. They rushed for 153 yards as Mark Ingram continued his resurgence.

At this point I only have one real concern on offense, and it's right tackle. As I mentioned earlier Charles Brown injured his knee and if he has to miss time it means third string tackle Bryce Harris will start. He played well after being thrown in the fire but let's see how he holds up once teams like San Francisco and Atlanta can game plan against him. Besides the injury issue the offense is looking more and more like 2011 every week.

Ever since Roger Goodell suspended Sean Payton for the entire season I've viewed 2012 as playing with house money. If season crashed and burned, well how could we expect the Saints to win without their coach? If they won after all the off-season chaos well that would be just an unexpected gift right?

This team is in it's own way incredibly fun to root for. They have had the deck stacked against them, are incredibly flawed on defense, and yet refused to pack it in when they had a ready made excuse to throw in the towel. If the 2012 Saints grab a playoff spot the only bigger accomplishment in team history will be the 2009 World Championship

The games:

Last Week: 2-3

Season 27-28

New Orleans (+1) vs. San Francisco: It's Thanksgiving week so you get my Saints pick early. Making a pick before the 49ers play on Monday against Chicago is dicey. As I mentioned above the right tackle injury is a huge issue against a dominant 49ers defensive line. At least the Saints will be at home so the offensive line won't have to deal with crowd noise.

This game comes down to two things; turnovers and pressuring Alex Smith. Last year in the playoffs the Saints committed five turnovers, didn't get to Alex Smith, and they lost. Smith's quarterback rating has a difference of 30 points when you hit him consistently.

My biggest fear is the Saints performance in Denver just an aberration or does it mean when they play elite teams they just don't measure up? They beat Atlanta and could have beat Green Bay so I'll say aberration. The Saints have got to be at worst 6-6 heading into December to have a serious shot at the playoffs so they have to beat either the 49ers or Atlanta. A little Brees magic late gets the Saints above .500

Saints 27-24

Tampa Bay (+1) vs. Atlanta: It pains me to say I think it's better for the Saints if Atlanta wins but that's the case. The Falcons are four games up on the Saints with six left so the division title is a pipe dream. The Bucs are a game ahead of the Saints in the wildcard hunt so them losing is more important. I bet Atlanta will do us no favors and gets crushed.

Bucs 33-20

Miami (+2) vs. Seattle: The Dolphins were 4-3 three weeks ago but have lost three straight. I'm not a believer in Russell Wilson and if Miami loses four straight my wife might put a brick through our TV. Dolphins don't let my wife put a brick through our TV.

Dolphins 23-16

New England (-7) at New York Jets: Les Miles post game press conference after the Ole Miss win was a true masterpiece. Every time I think I couldn't enjoy Les Miles coaching LSU any more than I do he raises it up a notch. He's like Bill Belichick only the exact opposite.

Patriots 35-21

LSU PICK

LSU (-13.5) at Arkansas: After watching Kansas State and Oregon lose it made LSU's loss to Alabama hurt all over again. LSU beats Bama and they have a clear path back to the title game. If the Tigers blowout the Razorbacks and things fall right they could go to either the Sugar or Fiesta Bowl. A match-up against Florida State could be fun no? They'll finish up strong. Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

Tigers 45-17

Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at ralphmalbrough@hotmail.com, find him on facebook, follow him on twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/MilneMalbrough or download his podcast at Itunes.

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