For the second week in a row, the New Orleans Saints are part of a high-profile national NFL telecast with important playoff ramifications. Last week, New Orleans (-2.5) won at Minnesota 30-20 in a rematch from January’s playoffs. This week, they are 1-point favorites at home against the Los Angeles Rams (FOX, 3:25 p.m.).
Betting markets have been pricing the Rams as “championship caliber” for weeks in game odds and on the futures board. They’ve been at the top of respected NFC Power Ratings all season. New Orleans may be about to join them at that level of respect. A six-game winning streak has launched the Saints very seriously into the championship discussion. Home field advantage is generally worth three points in the NFL. New Orleans -1 means that the Rams are only perceived as two points better on a neutral field.
Do the Saints deserve that much respect? Recent results say yes. But, there are some red flags in the box scores suggesting more work needs to be done. If you only saw the following stats, you’d have never guessed the Saints beat the Vikings by 10 points.
Last Sunday Night Total Yards:
Minnesota 423, New Orleans 270
Yards-per-Play: Minnesota 6.3, New Orleans 5.1
Drive Points: Minnesota 20, New Orleans 10
By “drive points,” we mean points scored on drives of 60 yards or more (a topic we’ve discussed in the past in this VSiN feature). Minnesota had three touchdowns on drives of 91, 80, and 75 yards (one failed conversion). New Orleans was helped by a defensive TD, and a cheap field position drive of just 18 yards.
Now, we’re not saying it was robbery. New Orleans executed fundamentals well, winning the turnover battle 2-1. The Saints obviously took full advantage of those turnovers! But, “championship caliber” should show up in ALL the stats. You can’t count on the opposing quarterback throwing you a touchdown pass come playoff time.
The prior week, New Orleans eked out a 24-23 win at respected Baltimore, thanks partly to a missed PAT from the Ravens in the final moments. Did you check out the stats from that game afterward? With the same categories, Baltimore won yardage 353-339, yards-per-play 5.5 to 4.8, and drive points 23-14.
To prove its championship bona fides, the Saints will need to show better numbers this week. That’s particularly true at home against a visitor that hasn’t played much outside of its home time zone. LA’s furthest trip East so far was Denver!
Should the Saints do that with a victory, they will be well-positioned for the playoff brackets. Both teams would have one loss…and New Orleans would own the tie-breaker because of that head-to-head victory. If you think Drew Brees and company are a great bet at -1 this Sunday, you should also consider them at NFC and Super Bowl futures prices because of that dynamic.
*Updating global odds from last week. New Orleans is now around 11/4 (+375) to win the NFC after beating Minnesota, 7/1 (+700) two win the Super Bowl. Los Angeles is around +175 to win the NFC, +375 to win the Super Bowl. Prices will vary at US sports books based on the betting tendencies of their local clientele.
*Carolina is now a clear threat to New Orleans at the top of the NFC South. The Panthers continued their shocking recent run with a surprisingly easy 36-21 win over Baltimore as a 2-point home underdog. That after rallying late to beat Philadelphia the prior Sunday. Note that Carolina outgained Baltimore 386-325 on 6.1 to 5.1 in yards-per-play. That compares favorably to what the Saints posted vs. the Ravens, but it was a home game rather than a road game. Carolina is -6.5 at home this week vs. Tampa Bay.
*We haven’t had a chance to update our estimated “market” Power Ratings for you in awhile. Let’s do that now. Today we’ll sort them by conference to give you a fuller sense of what the NFC and AFC races look like in terms of how “the market” rates the contenders in “neutral field” quality. Jonathan Von Tobel of VSiN and I use game point spreads (taking out three points for home field) to build a good-faith guess at the composite structure.
NFC: LA Rams 87, New Orleans 85, Green Bay 84, Philadelphia 82, Carolina 82, Chicago 82, Minnesota 81, Seattle 81, Dallas 80, Atlanta 80, Washington 79, Detroit 79, Tampa Bay 78, NY Giants 76, San Francisco 73, Arizona 72.
AFC: New England 87, Kansas City 87, Pittsburgh 84, Baltimore 84, LA Chargers 82, Houston 81, Cincinnati 81, Jacksonville 79, Indianapolis 79, Denver 79, Tennessee 77, Cleveland 75, NY Jets (with injuries) 74, Miami (with Osweiler) 74, Oakland 73, Buffalo (with Peterman) 69.
Best of luck with your football bets throughout this blockbuster weekend.