Free Sports Picks: NFL Marquee Matchups
by Nicholas Tolomeo - 12/18/2009
Thanks to two road underdog wins on Sunday I was 2-0 in my first edition of free NFL picks and now I am now 5-2 in football this season, including college. For this weekend I have two free picks, first on Saturday night in the Cowboys/Saints primetime showdown and also a pick in the Packers and Steelers FOX national broadcast game at 4:15 p.m. EST.
Dallas Cowboys at New Orleans Saints
Saturday, 8:20 p.m. ET
New Orleans -7.5
The line has moved higher because of Saints action. After opening as touchdown favorites, the line climbed as high as nine points at some books but since then the line has settled back at 7.5. The total has moved up an entire point after opening at 52.5
The Saints have made it clear they want to go undefeated and will treat this like any other game. Logistically, the 13-0 Saints really do not need this game as they have nearly everything clinched. The Cowboys, on the other hand, desperately need this game. A loss would force 8-5 Dallas to scoreboard watch all weekend as the 7-6 Giants and 6-7 Falcons and 49ers are quickly closing in on Dallas and the last Wild Card spot that they currently hold.
Pressure of Perfection
As talks of 16-0 begin to mount the pressure has been increasing on the Saints and perhaps that has been a reason for their numerous close calls lately. The Saints have flirted with disaster in back-to-back road games at Atlanta and at Washington. They have only covered twice in their last five games. When the spread is over a touchdown like it will be Saturday night, the Saints are 3-5 against the number and lately they have been 1-5 in November and December as a favorite of more than a touchdown.
Favorite no More
Through all the ups and downs of the Cowboys season, it has only been an underdog once before heading into Saturday. That was back in Week 9 when the three-point underdog Cowboys upset the Eagles, 20-16, on the road. Besides that Dallas has always been giving the points. A lot has been made of Tony Romo's awful December record but rarely has he been in an underdog role, a role that he has had success in during his career.
Inside the Numbers
Instantly this looks like a matchup nightmare for the Cowboys' secondary. The Saints and Drew Brees bring with them the league's third-best passing attack while the Cowboys' defense is 21st in the league at trying to stop the pass. There is more to the numbers though. The Cowboys can sling the ball around too; they are sixth in the league in passing offense and the Saints pass defense is equally as porous, ranking 22nd in the league, one spot behind the Cowboys.
Lately the Saints defense has been getting torched. However, thanks to some miscues by their opponents, these often get overlooked as the Saints remain perfect. They allow more than 112 yards on the ground per game (19th in the league) and the Cowboys have a running game as good as their passing attack. And unlike the Saints, the Cowboys can actually stop the run, ranking ninth in the NFL in run defense.
In a game with a lot of overlooked stats, the Cowboys run defense and the Saints lack of a run defense could be the most overlooked aspect.
Take the Cowboys and the points
Green Bay Packers at Pittsburgh Steelers
Sunday, 4:15 p.m. ET
The Steelers opened as early favorites and the line spent some time at 'pick' before going back to -1 in favor of the Steelers. The total has shown more movement after starting at 39 it has made a pretty quick jump to 41.
This made-for-TV out-of-conference game pits the Packers and Steelers together for the first time since November 2005 and brings Green Bay to Heinz Field for the first time in a regular season game. The Steelers have won six of the last eight games against the Packers and in Pittsburgh the Packers have not won since 1970.
The Steelers are fighting for pride and an outside chance at the playoffs. After embarrassing losses to Kansas City, Oakland and Cleveland, there has been a negative cloud hanging over the team. This game means a great deal to the players in the Steelers' locker room. The Packers come into the game riding a five-game winning streak that has helped propel them into the first wild card spot. A win here would do wonders in terms of securing the postseason future of Green Bay.
Can't Win the Big One
The Packers have struggled against some of the NFL's best competition this year. They are 2-3 SU and ATS against teams with winning record. Those are some pretty unimpressive numbers for a 9-4 team.
Can't Win the Small One
The Steelers are the exact opposite of Green Bay. They have had won the big games against Tennessee, San Diego, Minnesota and Denver this year but have been unable to defeat the likes of Chicago, Cleveland, Kansas City and Oakland. Against teams with a losing record the Steelers are 3-4 SU and 0-7 ATS. This game against Green Bay falls right into the Pittsburgh wheel house.
With the total sitting at 41, the more-than-questionable Heinz Field turf conditions and temperatures expected dip below freezing, the run game will be a major factor in this game. The Packers do own the second best rushing defense in the league behind only, you guessed it, the Steelers.
The Steelers are that odd team who has the ability to lose to literally anybody in the league but also beat anyone in the league. They have been playing down to or up to their competition all season. That bad habit will come in handy against the 9-4 playoff bound Packers. Take the Steelers giving the point.