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Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III makes his NFL debut Sunday in one of the most difficult places to play in the NFL: the New Orleans Superdome, where the Saints were unbeaten a year ago (covering all eight games) and averaged more than 41 points a game.
Griffin is Washington’s third starting quarterback in as many seasons. As the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, Griffin replaces Rex Grossman, who’s been relegated to the backup role. Griffin has a couple of veteran targets to throw to in Santana Moss and newly acquired Pierre Garcon. Last year’s leading Redskins receiver was Jabar Gaffney and he’s no longer with the team. Tight end Fred Davis was No. 2 with 59 catches for 796 yards, and he’s back after missing the final four regular-season games in 2011 for failing drug tests. Left tackle Trent Williams was also suspended for the same period, but he’s back as well.
On the ground, the Skins likely will distribute carries among second-year man Evan Royster, a sixth-round draft choice out of Penn State, and rookie Alfred Morris, a sixth-rounder from Florida Atlantic.
Washington ranked No. 13 overall, allowing 23 points per game and a 37.4 percent third-down conversion rate. The Redskins, led on defense by former Saints coach Jim Haslett, have a tough challenge ahead to stifle the Saints’ offense, which averaged 467.1 yards per game in 2011.
With head coach Sean Payton and linebacker Jonathan Vilma banned for the season and assistant head coach Joe Vitt (six games), general manager Mickey Loomis (eight games) and defensive end Will Smith (four games) suspended for their roles in New Orleans’ bounty system, it remains to be seen if those off-the-field troubles will affect the Saints’ on-field performance. The Saints have made the playoffs four times during Payton’s six years at the helm, including each of the last three seasons.
Drew Brees will be the de facto head coach this year. The six-time Pro Bowler threw a career-high 46 touchdowns and set NFL single-season records with 5,476 passing yards and a 71.2 completion percentage last season.
Washington leads the all-time series 15-8 but the Saints have won three of the past five. The teams haven’t played since 2009.
REDSKINS NOTES: Head coach Mike Shanahan is 14-4 (.778) on KO Weekend & his 14 wins are most by active head coach … Rookie QB Griffin III won 2011 Heisman Trophy at Baylor & set or tied 54 school records. In preseason, completed 20 of 31 (64.5 pct.) for 193 yards with 2 TDs & 0 INTs for 103.3 rating … Last year, RB Roy Helu was 1st rookie in franchise history to rush for 100+ yards in 3 consecutive games & RB Evan Royster rushed for 100+ yards in each of past 2 games. Rookie Alfred Morris (6th round, No. 173) ranked 2nd in NFC during preseason with 195 rush yards …WR Santana Moss is 1 of 4 players with 45+ catches & 500+ yards in each of past 9 seasons. WR Pierre Garcon had career-best 70 catches & 947 yards last year with Ind. Tied career-high with 6 rec. TDs …In Week 1 last year, LB Ryan Kerrigan had 9-yard INT-TD in NFL debut. Finished rookie season with 7.5 sacks, 4 FFs & INT-TD. LB Brian Orakpo has 28.5 sacks in 1st 3 NFL seasons.
SAINTS NOTES: Set NFL record with 7,474 total net yards & 5,347 net pass yards …QB Drew Brees had NFL single-season record 5,476 pass yards & 13 300-yard pass games, most all-time. Set single-season records for comp. (468) & comp. pct. (71.2). Has 300 pass yards in 7 games in row, longest streak in NFL history … RB-PR-KR Darren Sproles had NFL-record 2,696 all-purpose yards. RB Pierre Thomas is 1 of 4 in team history with 2,500+ rush yards (2,501) & 150+ rec. (166) … TE Jimmy Graham led NFL TEs with 99 receptions & was 2nd with 1,310 yards, 2nd most by TE all-time. Is 1st TE in NFL history with 95+ catches, 1,200+ yards & 10+ TDs in season. Graham (99) & Sproles (86) were 1st TE-RB duo in NFL history with 80+ catches each. WR Marques Colston had 1,143 rec. yards, his team-record 5th 1,000-yard season. Since 2006, WR Devery Henderson avg. 18.5 yards per catch (201 rec., 3,718 yards), highest mark in NFL (min. 200 catches) … Since entering NFL in 2006, S Roman Harper has 17 sacks, most by DB. Led team with 7.5 sacks, 2nd most all-time by DB in season. LB Curtis Lofton makes NO debut. Had career-high 167 tackles with Atl. last year.
WAGERWEB.COM TRENDS: Saints are 12-1 ATS in their last 13 home games. Saints are 9-1 ATS in their last 10 games overall. Saints are 8-1 ATS in their last 9 vs. NFC. Over is 5-1-1 in Redskins last 7 games overall. Under is 7-2 in Redskins last 9 games in Week 1.
INJURY REPORT: REDSKINS: DNP: S Brandon Meriweather (knee). LIMITED: NT Chris Baker (ankle). FULL: G Kory Lichtensteiger (knee), LB Brian Orakpo (chest), LB Chris Wilson (abdomen). SAINTS: DNP: WR Marques Colston (foot). LIMITED: CB Jabari Greer (groin), LB David Hawthorne (knee), LB Curtis Lofton (ankle). FULL: WR Adrian Arrington (knee).