By Jeff Fogle
Last week, we talked about a great indicator stat in football for measuring offenses and defenses. This week, a titanic NFL battle between an unstoppable force and an immovable object is showcased by that very stat.
If you weren’t with us a week ago, we’re referring to points scored and allowed on drives of 60 yards or more. Offenses with a proven ability to drive the field for points don’t have to rely on field position luck or turnover breaks to win. Defenses that can keep opponents from driving will always have a chance to pull a game out of the fire.
The New Orleans Saints are best in the NFL by this measure on offense. Sunday, they face the Baltimore Ravens (FOX, 3:05 p.m.), second-best in the league at preventing long drives.
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New Orleans 26.8
Kansas City 24.7
Tampa Bay 21.4
Kansas City is getting a lot of great press, as Patrick Mahomes surprised the league with instant success. Drew Brees has been doing this for years. Rules changes that make it easier to move the ball have played into the Saints’ strengths. There are only five teams (out of 32) registering 20 points or more per game on long drives. New Orleans is at least a field goal clear of everyone but Kansas City. The Saints have more points-per-game just on long drives than HALF the league has in ALL scoring.
Only Tennessee is better than Baltimore. All five of those defenses are doing an amazing job in the new 2018 passing environment. Does Baltimore have what it takes to survive a battle with Brees?
Betting markets make the Ravens a slight favorite. Late-week lines show Baltimore -2.5, which is below the standard value of three points for home field. That means the markets see the Saints as the superior “neutral field” side.
Some sports books are charging 12/10 vigorish rather than the standard 11/10 to take the Ravens at -2.5. A percentage of bettors who put a lot of weight on the key number of three (the most common final victory margin in football) are betting Baltimore -2.5 at 11/10. Sportsbooks go to 12/10 if they want to encourage underdog money while not bringing the full three into play. You can be sure professional wagerers would pound the Saints at +3 because that most common finishing margin becomes a push (tie, bets refunded) rather than a loss from the New Orleans perspective.
Are you familiar with teasers? If the line sticks at +2.5, then the Saints will be a very popular teaser entry for pro bettors. In a teaser, you’re allowed to move the line six points in your favor…but you have to do that in at least two games…then you must win BOTH to cash your ticket.
They’re called “teasers” because sweeping multiple games is harder than it looks, even when getting bonus points.
If New Orleans starts at +2.5, a six-point move would cross BOTH the three and seven … the two most common victory margins in football. New Orleans +8.5 with Drew Brees leading a Super Bowl caliber offense is a sound percentage choice for this proposition, granting that there are no sure things in sports betting.
The trick is finding other games to pair with the Saints in teasers. Other Sunday nominees for what’s referred to as “basic strategy” for six-point teasers could be Indianapolis -7.5 vs. Buffalo (moving the Colts down to -1.5), and Dallas +1.5 at Washington (moving the Cowboys up to +7.5). Should Chicago drop from +3 vs. New England to +2.5, the Bears would also qualify … because you could cross the three and the seven on the way to Chicago +8.5.
Whether you’re betting the classic point spread, or getting creative with fun props, Sunday’s Saints/Ravens game will be must-see TV.
▪ If you’re wondering about the other side of the football for both the Saints and Ravens, shootout prone New Orleans is allowing 22.2 points per game on drives of 60 yards or more. Baltimore’s offense is scoring 13.5 points in more of a smash-mouth style. It all comes out in the wash in terms of differentials. New Orleans is +4.6, Baltimore +4.5.
▪ New Orleans entered last week’s bye on a three-game cover streak. Saints got the money in Atlanta 43-37 as a 2-point underdog, in New York against the Giants 33-18 as a 3-point favorite, and at home against Washington 43-19 as a 6-point favorite. Those beat the market by 8, 12, and 18 points.
▪ Though we won’t get a chance to talk much NBA until football winds down, we wanted to mention that pro bettors were very impressed by the New Orleans Pelicans’ 131-112 season-opening win in Houston as an 8-point underdog. Don’t forget that the Pelicans closed last season on a 12-2 point spread sprint. The market may still not be giving them enough respect as we start a new campaign.