New Orleans Saints (2-4) at Denver Broncos (3-3)
Drew Brees looks like Drew Brees again. He struggled, by his standards, in his first few games out of the gate, but you had to figure that eventually he’d get it together, even without Sean Payton, because he’s just too talented. In his last 3 games, he’s completed 91 of 136 for 11 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. He’s now on pace for 5592 yards, which would break his own record set just last year, and he’s got a legitimate chance to do that if he continues to play this well or close to this well because of his team’s atrocious defense and running game. He’s currently on pace for 728 passing attempts, which would shatter Drew Bledsoe’s 18 year old record of 691.
However, just because Drew Brees looks like Drew Brees again doesn’t mean the Saints are the Saints again. They can’t run the ball or stop anyone. They rank dead last in the NFL in rushing yards and rushing attempts and 26th in rushing yards per carry. Defensively, they rank 29th against the run, dead last against the pass, dead last in pass rush efficiency, and 29th in points per game allowed, allowing 30.3 per game. As a result, they’ve had to pass 273 times to 122 runs, not including quarterback scrambles and sacks, which were designed passes that don’t count as pass attempts.
You might not think of defense and running the football when you think of the Saints, but whenever they’ve been good, it’s something they’ve done. In 2009 when they won the Super Bowl, they ranked 6th in the league in rushing yards, 7th in the league in YPC, and allowed just 21.3 points per game. Last year, when they won 13 games, they allowed 21.2 points per game, ranked 6th in rushing yards, and 4th in YPC.
This year, they remind me a lot more of the 2008 Saints, when Drew Brees threw for over 5000 yards, but the team went 8-8 because he didn’t have any help. They ranked 28th in rushing yards, 23rd in yards per carry, and allowed 24.6 points per game, good for 26th in the league. Drew Brees might look like Drew Brees, but the Saints aren’t the Saints, even though people do seem to think they’re back. As a result, they’re a heavily backed underdog at +6 in Denver this week.
In order to see how overrated the Saints are, we need to look at where they rank in terms of yards per play differential and rate of sustaining drives differential. The former measures pure yards per play as opposed to their opponent’s, while the latter measures how often they convert any given set of downs for a first down or score, as opposed to their opponents. They rank just 26th in yards per play differential and 23rd in rate of sustaining drives differential.
Denver, meanwhile, ranks 2nd in yards per play differential and 13th in rate of sustaining drives. We can calculate “real” line using those two numbers and we get a real line of Denver -13.5 for the yards per play differential method and Denver -6.5 for the rate of sustaining drives method. The disparity is the reason I use both numbers because some teams can get a lot of big plays, but struggle to sustain drives or vice versa (and the opposite defensively), but both suggest we’re getting line value with the Broncos. This line is at -6 and the Saints are still a heavy publicly backed dog.
Speaking of the Saints being a heavy publicly backed underdog, I mentioned in earlier picks this week that, with one exception and one borderline exception, you’d have to be crazy to pick a public underdog this week. Underdogs are 63-39 ATS this year. Eventually, that will even out. It always does. Neither dogs nor favorites have finished more than 10 games over .500 ATS in the last decade at least. If you can get a situation where you can pick a favorite this week and simultaneously fade the public (the odds makers always win in the long run), you have to take it unless you have a really good reason not to. Given that the Saints are overrated right now, there isn’t a good reason not to here.
I also like Denver at home more than I like them on the road because they can run the hurry up in the thin atmosphere and tire out opponents. They’ve gotten 2 double digits wins at home this year, including a blowout over the Raiders, and hung close with the Texans. The Saints don’t travel well anyway. The Broncos have also played an awful tough schedule early playing the Steelers, Falcons, Texans, Raiders, Patriots, and Chargers. They’re better than their record would suggest.
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 Denver covers)
Sharps lean: NO 14 DEN 6
Final update: No change.
Denver Broncos 34 New Orleans Saints 24
Pick against spread: Denver -6 (-110) 2 units