I have read more than one comparison linking last year's Dallas Cowboys to this year's Saints. How so? The 2013 Cowboys were 8-8 and missed the playoffs. They were a very pass-heavy team, with running back DeMarco Murray having a good-but-not-huge season. That offseason, Dallas upgraded its offensive line and relied more on Murray in 2014 as Tony Romo averaged 31.5 pass attempts per game, his lowest since his 2006. Murray was a monster, and Dallas was 12-4, winning the NFC East.
Last year's Saints were 7-9 and led the NFL in passing yards yet again behind Drew Brees. They were No. 2 in pass attempts. This offseason, the Saints traded two of Brees' best receivers, tight end Jimmy Graham and wideout Kenny Stills, but upgraded the offensive line with former Pro Bowl center Max Unger coming over the Graham trade from Seattle and New Orleans taking Stanford tackle Andrus Peat with its initial first-round pick. The team also re-signed running back Mark Ingram, who had his best season in 2014, and added former Bills running back C.J. Spiller. So it will be interesting to see the run-pass ratio this year under Coach Sean Payton.
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New Orleans was 4-4 on the road last season (actually better than home record), 4-4 against the spread and 5-3 "over/under." The Saints' 2015 road schedule ranks as the 11th-easiest in the NFL with an opponents' combined 2014 winning percentage of .473. It does tie Tampa for the hardest in the NFC South.
Here's the schedule with very early (opponent) odds. One notable thing: no road games for Saints in back-to-back weeks -- that's rare.
Sept. 13 -- at Cardinals (-2.5): New Orleans has lost its season opener three of the past four years. I suppose if you are going to play Arizona in 2015, then Week 1 is as good as ever because Cardinals QB Carson Palmer is coming off a torn ACL and I doubt he plays much if at all in the preseason. So Palmer is likely to be a tad rusty. Last meeting was 2013, a 31-7 Saints home win in which Palmer wasn't good and Brees threw for 342 yards and three scores. Saints lose this. Key trend: Saints have lost seven straight at NFC West teams (1-6 ATS).
Sept. 27 -- at Panthers (-2): New Orleans is off a Week 2 home opener against Tampa, while Carolina is off a home game against Houston. The Saints played maybe their best road game of 2014 in Week 9 on a Thursday in Charlotte, winning 28-10 to end a seven-game road losing streak. Brees threw for 297 yards and a touchdown and also ran for a score. Ingram rushed for 100 yards and two touchdowns. The Saints held an opponent scoreless in the first half of a road game for the first time since Week 6 of the 2010 season against the Buccaneers. I'll say Saints win this one. Key trend: Saints have lost four straight as road dog in series (1-3 ATS).
Oct. 11 -- at Eagles (-4): New Orleans off a Sunday night game vs. Dallas, while Philadelphia is in Washington in Week 4. Last meeting was a wild-card game in wintry Philly on Jan. 4, 2014. So basically the kind of cold-weather game the Saints usually lose, and they had never won a road playoff game. They did this time, 26-24, on a 32-yard field goal as time expired. New Orleans had been 0-5 in postseason games outside of the Big Easy. Saints lose this one. Key trend: Saints 5-5 ATS in past 10 at NFC East teams.
Oct. 25 -- at Colts (-5): New Orleans has a few extra days to get ready for Andrew Luck as it is off a Thursday home game vs. Atlanta in Week 6. Indianapolis might be flat here off a Sunday night AFC title game rematch against New England in maybe Tom Brady's season debut. I'm looking forward to this game because Luck and Brees have never faced off before, and this most likely will be the last time. Last meeting was a Saints 62-7 home rout in 2011. Colts are just a tad better now and will win here unless that Patriots game takes everything out of them. Key trend: Saints have lost five straight as a road dog of at least 5 points (2-3 ATS).
Nov. 15 -- at Redskins (pick'em): New Orleans off a home game vs. Tennessee and has the bye after this. Washington is off a Week 9 trip to New England. I remember the last meeting between the Saints and Redskins well because it was Week 1 of the 2012 season and Robert Griffin III's NFL debut -- and he was great in a 40-32 upset. Not sure he will be starting by this point in the year, however. Saints win in what looks will be their final cold-weather game (if it is in D.C. in mid-November) of regular season. Key trend: Saints 6-3-1 ATS in past 10 before a bye (any location).
Nov. 29 -- at Texans (-2): New Orleans comes off its bye for this. Houston is home to the Jets in Week 11. I think any game in Texas gets Brees fired up as he's from there. Saints won last meeting 40-33 in 2011 at home. Have only visited Houston once. Saints lose. Key trend: Saints 7-3 ATS in past 10 after a bye (any location).
Dec. 13 -- at Buccaneers (+2.5): New Orleans off a home game vs. Carolina, while Tampa is home to Atlanta in Week 13. Saints finished last season with a 23-20 win in Tampa, assuring the Bucs got the No. 1 overall pick, which of course they used on Jameis Winston. Tampa led 20-7 entering the fourth quarter. Brees gave the Saints the lead with a 36-yard TD pass to Marques Colston with 1:57 left. He did have three picks, however. This smells like a trap game potentially, but Saints win. Key trend: Saints have won five of past six as road favorite in series (3-3 ATS).
Jan. 3 -- at Falcons (-2.5): One of a handful of Week 17 lines available on 5Dimes. New Orleans off its home finale vs. Jacksonville in Week 16, while Atlanta is home to Carolina the previous Sunday. Saints opened last season with a 37-34 overtime loss at the Georgia Dome as the Falcons tied it on a 51-yard field goal as time expired and won it on a 52-yarder after the Saints fumbled the ball away on the second play of overtime. Brees threw for 333 yards but only one TD and was picked off in the end zone. Saints win this. Key trend: Saints are 4-6 ATS in past 10 as road dog in Atlanta.
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