Sunday, the New Orleans Saints will take the field vs. the Philadelphia Eagles (FOX, 3:40 p.m.) as favorites to win the NFC and the Super Bowl. They will likely close near 8-point favorites vs. the Eagles, would be a home favorite in the NFC Championship game vs. either the LA Rams or Dallas, and would be a slight favorite over any AFC entry to earn the Lombardi Trophy in Atlanta on the first Sunday of February.
Composite global odds to win the NFC: New Orleans even money, LA Rams 7/4, Dallas 8/1, Philadelphia 8/1
Composite global odds to win the Super Bowl: New Orleans 9/4, Kansas City 4/1, LA Rams 9/2, New England 6/1, LA Chargers 10/1, Indianapolis 12/1, Dallas 16/1, Philadelphia 16/1.
New Orleans should feel confident Sunday vs. Philadelphia. These teams played in the Superdome back on November 18. The Saints were 7-point favorites before coasting to a 48-7 blowout. Game stats backed up the rout. New Orleans won total yardage 546-196 on 7.9 to 4.1 yards-per-play. Drew Brees passed for 363 yards with four TD’s. Carson Wentz only threw for 156 yards with three interceptions.
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Why is Sunday’s point spread only eight (possibly rising higher before kickoff) given that result? There are two key differences involving the visitor.
▪ Philadelphia’s defense was injury riddled at the time of the first meeting. There’s no way to stop Brees and the Saints indoors on a fast track when your defense is injury riddled! That stop unit has performed much more impressively in recent weeks. Not only did the Eagles shut down No. 3 seed Chicago on the road last Sunday, but they also upset the No. 2 seed Los Angeles Rams 30-23 on the road in mid-December.
▪ Philadelphia’s quarterback Carson Wentz imploded vs. the Saints, a few games before finally being escorted to the bench so he could recover from a bad back. Nick Foles has been getting much better results in his stead. And, he’s still showing that playoff magic that led to last year’s shocking championship run.
Handicappers and bettors must determine whether those new developments justify Sunday’s point spread. Worth remembering that the Saints are VERY fresh and rested. They had last week off, and didn’t bring much fire in the season finale vs. Carolina the week before. Philadelphia had to win its last three regular season games to sneak into the final NFC playoff slot … and went right down to the wire in upsetting Chicago last week.
It’s possible that “exhausted Philadelphia” is similar to “injury-riddled Philadelphia” in a way that could create another rout.
▪ If Sunday’s spread sits on -7.5, -8, or -8.5, then New Orleans will be a very popular choice for sharps (professional wagerers) and squares (the public) in “teaser” bets that allow you to move the line six points in your favor on multiple games. Bettors must sweep their choices to cash their tickets.
We talked about these earlier this season. “Basic strategy” encourages options that cross both the 3 and the 7 in one fell swoop. There were three underdogs over Wildcard Weekend that qualified. Indianapolis +2, Seattle +2, and the Los Angeles Chargers +2.5 all covered their teased lines.
The catch this week is finding a partner. If the Rams rise to -7.5 vs. Dallas, that creates an obvious couplet (Saints -2 and Rams -1.5). If there are no other “basic strategy” qualifiers, sharps will be looking to move respected underdogs Indianapolis and San Diego to higher prices.
▪ Let’s update VSiN’s estimate of “market” Power Ratings. Jonathan Von Tobel of “Betting Across America” and I put our heads together in an attempt to capture how “the market” is currently rating NFL teams based on settled point spreads. We used a standard three points for home field advantage, then build a scale that would represent neutral field meetings. Because New Orleans is -8 vs. Philadelphia, the Saints go five points higher on that scale.
Current Ratings: New Orleans 87, Kansas City 86, LA Rams 86, New England 85, LA Chargers 84, Indianapolis 83, Dallas 82, Philadelphia 82.
▪ A good time to review “Drive Points,” VSiN’s tabulation of points scored and allowed on offensive drives of 60 yards or more. New Orleans finished the regular season with the best offense of NFC contenders (20.2 drive points per game), but the worst defense (18.5 allowed). If you assume that Drew Brees’ consistency keeps the offense stable, running the table over the next month will depend on defense.
Here are game-by-game regular season averages for this weekend’s matchups (offense listed first, then defense) Indianapolis (18.6/12.3) at Kansas City (25.1/19.9), Dallas (13.8/12.6) at LA Rams (19.1/15.7), LA Chargers (17.7/10.1) at New England (16.6/12.1), and Philadelphia (14.8/13.9) at New Orleans (20.2/18.5).