New Orleans Saints (11-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)
At first glance, this line, which favors Philadelphia by 2.5 points, seems off. The Saints had a fantastic regular season on the whole, moving the chains at a 76.98% rate, as opposed to 68.85% for their opponents, a differential of 8.13% that ranks 2nd in the NFL. Philadelphia, meanwhile, comes in at 12th, moving the chains at a 74.91% rate, but allowing opponents to move the chains at a 73.10% rate, a differential of 1.80%. That suggests that New Orleans should be the ones favored and by 3.5 points.
However, we need to delve a little deeper, as that 74.91% number takes into account games in which Michael Vick and/or Matt Barkley saw significant snaps. If you only take into account the 9 games which Nick Foles started and finished (in which they went 8-1, as opposed to 2-5 in their other 7 games), they move the chains at an absurd 78.69% rate, which would be 2nd best in the NFL behind Denver if they were season long numbers. Even with a defense that will allow you to move the chains with some ease, that’s still a differential of 5.58%, which would be 6th in the NFL over a full season. New Orleans still ranks higher, but at least now we have a line that should be a pick ‘em, based blindly on rate of moving the chains.
That still suggests New Orleans is the right side, but we have to take into account the Saints’ road issues. While the Saints are either 7-0-1 or 7-1 at home (depending on what line you had for the 49ers game), they are 1-7 ATS on the road and 3-5 straight up, including losses to St. Louis and the Jets and a blowout loss in Seattle. This is nothing new for them, as Drew Brees’ QB rating is usually about 10-15 points lower on the road than at home. He also doesn’t have a road playoff win in his career and the Saints don’t have one in franchise history. Since 2008, excluding the 2012 season when Sean Payton didn’t coach, the Saints are 31-10 ATS at home and 17-25 ATS on the road.
I am actually 15-1 ATS picking Saints games this year and it would be 15-0-1 if I had gotten -3 in the 49ers game and not -3.5, in an eventual New Orleans win by 3. I’ve done this by blindly picking them at home and almost blindly picking against them on the road, only picking them in Chicago as 1 point favorites because I correctly believed the Bears to be overrated at that point. I don’t have a ton of confidence because the Saints are a very good team and because this is Nick Foles’ first playoff game and Rob Ryan will have something good planned for him, but as long as this line is under 3, I’m sticking with what got me here and fading the Saints on the road. It’s also worth noting that playoff teams who have a better record than their opponent, but are underdogs are 6-15 ATS since 2001. They’re usually underdogs for a reason.
Philadelphia Eagles 27 New Orleans Saints 23
Pick against spread: Philadelphia -2.5