New Orleans Saints (0-0) at Arizona Cardinals (0-0)
The Cardinals won 11 games last season, while the Saints won 7, but I think the Saints were actually the better team last year, as they ranked 11th in rate of moving the chains differential, while Arizona ranked 17th. The Saints were just kept down by the usual fluky things that common fans put too much stock into that tend to be very inconsistent on a year-to-year or week-to-week basis, turnover margin (-13), return touchdown margin (-4), fumble recovery rate (37.84%), and record in games decided by a touchdown or less (3-5). The Cardinals, meanwhile, were boosted by the same things, as they had a 62.07% rate of recovering fumbles (best in the NFL), a +8 turnover margin, a +4 return touchdown margin, and a 4-1 record in games decided by a touchdown or less.
However, that doesn’t necessarily mean the Saints will be better than the Cardinals this season. The Cardinals will be healthier this season. Even though they were pretty middle of the pack last season in terms of adjusted games lost, injuries still had a major impact on their season, and they will be better for having a healthier Carson Palmer, Andre Ellington, Tyrann Mathieu, and Patrick Peterson (Peterson didn’t miss a game, but struggled because of undiagnosed diabetes). Palmer and Ellington remain injury risks and they don’t get any added help in the receiving corps or the defensive front 7; in fact, they lost nose tackle Dan Williams and defensive end Tommy Kelly this off-season, but it’s not all bad news for the Cardinals going into the season.
It’s certainly not all good news for the Saints either though, as the lost Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills this off-season, leaving them very thin in the receiving corps. They’ll be better on the offense line and on the ground, but their league worst defense doesn’t seem to be in much better shape, especially after they had to cut top defensive player Junior Galette for off-the-field problems. They’re also coming into this one banged up, with Jairus Byrd, Keenan Lewis, and CJ Spiller, all key players, expected to miss this game. The Cardinals will be without free agent acquisition Mike Iupati in this one, but they’re still in better shape injury wise. At the very least, going into this game, these two teams are even, but the Cardinals are still favored by less than a field goal at home. That gives us some value with them.
There’s also value with the Cardinals’ homefield advantage, while the Saints have struggled on the road in recent years. The Cardinals are 29-12 ATS as home underdogs or favorites of less than 3 since 2007, while the Saints are 17-26 ATS on the road since 2010. Getting the Cardinals as less than a field goal favorites at home against a banged up Saints team is a good value and one of the few sides I’d put money on this week.
Arizona Cardinals 26 New Orleans Saints 20
Pick against the spread: Arizona -2.5