Expert NFL Handicapping: Six Reasons the New Orleans Saints are a Super Bowl Contender
I'll admit that I was wrong about the New Orleans Saints this year. That's not particularly shocking - being wrong a lot is a part of this job whether you like it or not. But I really thought that the Saints would be much like they have been for a few years now - an exciting team that isn't very good at winning games because their high-potency offense isn't matched with a defense of any sort. They felt like the same completely mediocre team they have been. But here they are at 8-2, tied with the Vikings for the second-best record in the league. And those eight wins have come in a row, so they are the hottest team in the league. And they are the fourth choice to win the Super Bowl at +750 at Bovada and the second choice to win the NFC behind only Philadelphia. I did not see this coming. But it is. How? And can it keep happening?:
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Brees: Drew Brees is having a remarkable year - even though he'll fall well short of his passing totals of recent years. He had 5,208 yards last year and has had more than 5,000 in four of six seasons. This year he is on track for about 4,450. That's still likely to be a Top 5 total in the league, but it is a decided shift for the Saints. They are not just playing video game football anymore - everyone go deep. They are more well-rounded and more patient. Rookie running back Alvin Kamara is favored to win the rookie of the year, and Mark Ingram has been excellent as well. They are the only two backs in the league to have 350 yards from scrimmage in November so far. A lot of guys who have put in the years and put up the numbers that Brees have would be too sensitive to put their egos aside and shift styles for the good of the team. That he is doing it is a sign of how classy he is - and it's obviously paying off. They have the top offense in the league like they did last year, but they have run for 36 more yards per game this year than last and passed for 46 fewer yards.
Coaching: Sean Payton is a very good coach. There is no doubting that. What has been interesting, though, is that he is back to being engaged and fully effective. Too often the last few years it had seemed like he was mailing it in to some extent. It seemed last year like he had one foot out the door. It wasn't clear where he was going, but he was looking to go somewhere else to coach. Now he's engaged and dangerous.
Defense: The Saints could sweep rookie of the year honors, because corner Marshon Lattimore is favored to win the defensive award - if he can get healthy again after missing the last game. He's part of what has been a pretty impressive turnaround defensively for this team. After allowing 28.4 points per game last year, the team has allowed just 19.6 per game this year. That's not a profound number - seven teams have allowed fewer - but for a team that has viewed defense as optional for years now it's a clear shift.
Division: The Saints have a one-game edge over the Panthers in the division and have beaten the Panthers the only time the teams have met so far. That is far from an insurmountable lead, but they clearly have the edge. And 6-4 is good enough for a wild card in the NFC right now, so they have a good cushion in that race even if the Panthers catch them. This is really looking like a playoff team with six games remaining.
Remaining schedule: The schedule isn't as easy as it could be the rest of the way. They face a tough game at a dangerous and angry Rams team next. Then they host the Panthers in a game that could decide the division. They have two games against the Falcons, too. Home against the Jets and at the Bucs are likely wins to round things out, so 10 wins feels like a floor and 12 seems like a reasonable goal.
Betting performance: The team is a solid 7-3 ATS on the season, so they have treated bettors well. And they have gone "over" the total in six of games to deliver a profit on that front as well.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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