Kansas City Chiefs (0-2) at New Orleans Saints (0-2)
I don’t think anyone really knew how the Saints would respond to BountyGate and the corresponding BountyGate penalties. Would they fall flat? Would they go into eff you mode? Would it not really matter? I leaned more on the positive side because Sean Payton was an offensive coach and Drew Brees could handle the offense by himself basically and because they wouldn’t be changing much scheme wise. I also acknowledged that the Saints had one of the most talented rosters in the NFL and would have probably been my Super Bowl pick in ordinary circumstances. However, here the Saints stand 2 games into the season at 0-2, a record at which teams go on to make the playoffs about 12% of the time. In terms of yards per play differential, they rank a mere 28th.
What’s interesting is that their problems have not really been offensive. They’re not the prolific offense they were last year, but 59 points in 2 games isn’t half bad. The problem is the defense, specifically the pass defense. They’ve surrendered 72 points total and are allowing 12.5 YPA, a ridiculous number considering the next worst team is at 9.7 YPA (for reference, the NFL record for YPA allowed in a season is 8.8, by the 2008 Lions). They also rank 25th in pass rush efficiency.
So what’s happened? Isn’t Steve Spagnuolo a Super Bowl winning defensive coordinator? Wasn’t he supposed to coach up their young pass rushers? Isn’t that his specialty? Wasn’t Sean Payton an offensive Head Coach? It’s not that they miss Jonathan Vilma, because he was terrible last year and replacements Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne are much better than he is. Do they miss Gregg Williams and his excellent motivational speeches?
Well, one of the problems has been injuries. Jabari Greer, their top cornerback, missed the opener and was limited in their 2nd game, while nickel cornerback Johnny Patrick has done the opposite. He left the opener with an injury and didn’t play last week. As a result, Corey White has had to play every defensive snap except for 2. As you would expect, the 5th round rookie cornerback has been torched, allowing 10 catches for 171 yards and a touchdown on 11 attempts. He is currently ProFootballFocus’ 2nd worst rated cornerback.
The good news is that Greer should be closer to 100% this week and Patrick will be back, so White will go back to being the 4th cornerback, where he belongs. This secondary is actually pretty talented. Last year, despite a league worst pass rush in pass rush efficiency, they ranked 14th against the pass. All 4 starters allowed less than 60% completion. Being closer to full strength should help their coverage problems, even if the pass rush doesn’t step up.
One other thing that’s in play is their schedule. Neither Carolina nor Washington is a football powerhouse, but they can both pass the ball well and they’re hardly welcoming teams to a team trying to adjust to life without their Head Coach. This week, their opponent is much more welcoming. The Chiefs are also 0-2 and rank one spot lower than the Saints in yards per play differential at 29th. They haven’t been competitive either of their games, something only the Titans can also say, losing both by at least 16 points and last week they were down 35-3 to the Bills after 3 quarters before 2 garbage time touchdowns.
They’ve been just as bad defensively as the Saints have. They’ve allowed 75 points in 2 games. Allowing 40 points in the opener to Atlanta is excusable because they were down their top two defensive players in Tamba Hali and Brandon Flowers and facing a very tough offense, but allowing 35 to the Bills at close to full strength is not excusable. Romeo Crennel is a great defensive coordinator, but he’s also the Head Coach, so you have to wonder if he has too much on his plate to coordinate a successful defense like he did last year. This team’s conservative game plan had been scrapped in the first 2 games as they’ve passed 75 times to 57 runs, which has put a lot of pressure on Matt Cassel and they’ve predictably turned the ball over 6 times, 2nd worst in the league.
I don’t give them any chance of stopping Drew Brees and company this week so it will be more playing from behind for the Chiefs and even against New Orleans’ pass defense, I don’t think Matt Cassel will be able to keep up the way Robert Griffin and Cam Newton did, especially with New Orleans being much closer to 100% in this one injury wise defensively. The Saints are also in their 3rd game without Sean Payton and they should get better as the season goes on. Besides, teams that make the playoffs and then start 0-2 the following year are 16-7 ATS since 2003 week 3. Typically, talented former playoff teams get things together by week 3.
I expect that to continue to be the case here as the Saints at home, where they are still 9-1 ATS in their last 10 despite the week 1 loss, should blow out the lowly Chiefs, who have been blown out an awful lot over the last 2 plus years. 11 of their 18 losses over the last 2 plus years have been by 16 or more points, including playoffs. This game should make it 12 of 19. New Orleans is also my Survivor Pick for anyone still alive (namely, people who didn’t listen to me last week when I picked New England). It might sound weird to pick an 0-2 team in survivor, but all of the good teams are either playing each other this week or on the road and I’m pretty confident the Saints will win here at home against the Chiefs. I can’t see them going 0-3.
Three things keep this from being a bigger bet. One is a trend that says that teams in their 2nd straight road game as underdogs off a loss are 57-38 ATS since 2008. The other is just the size of the line. Even though I expect a blow out game, I don’t like betting heavily on big favorites. Three, most of the action is on New Orleans this week. I like to go against the public every chance I get (the public is 13-19 this year and getting killed in games like this where a ton of the action is on one side), but I’m still taking New Orleans for a moderate sized wager.
Public lean: New Orleans (new thing I’m adding, siding with the odds makers on bets is not a bad thing to do since they make so much money, so I’m listing this here to allow readers to “fade” the public, if they so choose, in this example, the odds makers win if Kansas City covers)
New Orleans Saints 37 Kansas City Chiefs 20 Survivor Pick (HOU, NE)
Pick against spread: New Orleans -9 (-105) 3 units