Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver (grass, outdoors)
When: Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET (NBC)
Spread: Denver by 6
Forecast: Zero chance of rain, temperature in mid-40s
Records: Saints (2-4; 1-1 NFC South); Broncos (3-3; 2-0 AFC West)
Past results: Two most recent meetings -- Sept. 21, 2008: Broncos 34-32 in Denver; Nov. 21, 2004: Broncos 34-13 in New Orleans. Series record: Broncos lead 7-2 and 4-1 in Denver.
What matters: Consistency on defense. As bad as the Saints have been defensively (really bad), they played well for long stretches in their wins over San Diego and Tampa Bay their past two games. They shut out the Chargers for the final 27 minutes, rallying from a 24-14 deficit to win 31-24. They blanked the Bucs for nearly 40 minutes in between allowing three TDs on the first three series and giving up 146 yards in the final 10:28. They'll need to match their best moments against the Chargers and Bucs to slow Peyton Manning. They can't have blown coverages like the one on Tampa Bay's first snap that turned into an easy 13-yard score. They can't have the same sloppy tackling that allowed the Bucs' Doug Martin to score on a 36-yard run (he gained 49 yards on his other 15 carries). If they remain confused by new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's scheme, Manning will pick them apart. The return of interim coach Joe Vitt, whose position responsibility is linebackers, could help, although defensive assistant Andre Curtis continued to coach the LBs this week.
Who matters: Drew Brees and Manning. Were you expecting anything different? Didn't think so. Defenses have been helpless against both future Hall of Fame quarterbacks in the last three games. Brees is 91 of 136 (66.9 percent) for 1,192 yards, 11 scores and two interceptions in that span. Manning is 85 of 112 (75.9 percent) for 984 yards, nine TDs and one interception. Brees no longer is affected by the absence of suspended coach Sean Payton. The neck injury that sidelined Manning for all of 2011 and threatened to rob his arm strength has not affected his recent throws. The quarterback with the hotter hand likely will prevail.
Key matchups: Saints OTs Jermon Bushrod and Zach Strief vs. Broncos DE Elvis Dumervil and SLB Von Miller. The Saints have to score at least 30 points to beat almost anyone, and how their tackles fare against the Broncos' pass-rushing duo will go a long way in determining their productivity. Brees can carve up any secondary when he gets time to throw, even one that includes lock-down CB Champ Bailey. But if Dumervil and Miller pressure him consistently, the Saints will struggle to stay with the Broncos on the scoreboard. Dumervil (5-feet-11, 260 pounds) has 31.5 sacks in his past 36 games. Miller (6-3, 237) had 11.5 sacks as a rookie and six this year. Bushrod and Strief are vulnerable to speed rushers, so they'll need help from the running backs and tight ends to keep Brees upright.
Injuries of note: Pro Bowl TE Jimmy Graham (right ankle sprain) will be a game-time decision. He was limited in practice all week after missing the Bucs game. If he can't play, the only available TE will be David Thomas unless the Saints activate Mike Higgins from the practice squad. LB David Hawthorne (hamstring) also will be a game-time decision. He missed the past three games after getting hurt vs. Kansas City. WR Joe Morgan (chest contusion) won't play. He had a 48-yard TD vs. the Bucs.
Inside stuff: The Saints are last in the NFL in rushing (76.2 ypg), and part of the problem is the lack of production from 2011 first-round pick Mark Ingram. After a mediocre rookie year, he is averaging 2.9 yards per carry (on 44 carries), and the team's leading rusher in 2010, Chris Ivory, can't get on the field. Ivory, a fan favorite, brought up the NFL trade deadline to a reporter earlier this week. He's not happy about being inactive, and the pressure is on Ingram to produce. It's not good when your signature play is a 2-yard run.
Connections: Denver CB Tracy Porter played his first four seasons with the Saints, sealing their Super Bowl victory over Indianapolis in 2009 with an interception return for a TD. He signed with the Broncos last March. … Manning grew up in New Orleans and is the son of long-time Saints QB Archie Manning. … Saints DT Brodrick Bunkley started 13 games with Denver last year, making 43 tackles.
Stats you should know: The Saints have allowed more yards in their first six games than any NFL team since at least 1940, according to ProFootballReference.com. … Brees is on pace to break the NFL record for passing yards he set last year. … Denver has outscored opponents 79-6 in the fourth quarter. … Denver coach John Fox was 11-7 against New Orleans as coach of Carolina from 2002 to 2010, and 6-4 against Brees.
Bulletin board quote: “You can try to get in his head, but more often than not you'll probably get in your own head and mess yourself up.” -- Saints S Roman Harper on Manning.
Looking ahead: The Saints host Philadelphia on Monday, Nov. 5 in the second of back-to-back prime-time games before the schedule really gets tough. Four of their following five game are against NFC powers Atlanta (twice), San Francisco and New York.
Prediction: Denver 31, New Orleans 27
Follow Saints reporter Guerry Smith on twitter @CBSSaints.