New Orleans Saints (5-8) at Arizona Cardinals (5-7-1)
Both of these teams have losing records, but both have played significantly better than their record would suggest. In fact, the Saints have a +9 offensive touchdown differential, tied for 4th best in the NFL, and the Cardinals have a +8 offensive touchdown differential, 6th in the NFL. The Cardinals have played well this season, with the exception of a few special teams plays that have unfortunately decided games. They missed a game winning field goal against New England. They allowed a long punt return to set up the winning score against the Rams. They had a blocked punt and a number of missed field goals in the tie against the Seahawks. They allowed a kickoff return touchdown in a 6-point loss to the Vikings. And last week, in a 3-point loss, special teams cost them 7 points on 3 plays with a missed field goal, a missed extra point, and a blocked extra point that was returned for 2 points. They’ve won the first down rate battle in 11 of 13 games and rank 2nd in first down rate differential on the season, but their season is essentially over at 5-7-1 because of a handful of special teams screw ups.
The Saints, meanwhile, rank 6th in first down rate differential, but their season is essentially over as well at 5-8, because of a -4 return touchdown differential and 6 losses by 6 points or fewer, including 4 losses by 3 points or fewer. The Cardinals are the better team and are only favored by 2.5 here at home, so I’m taking them, but I can’t be confident in them, especially with a tough Seattle game on deck. The Saints are also in a good spot in their second of two road games. Teams are 141-108 ATS as road underdogs off a road loss since 2008, including 112-74 ATS when it’s their 2nd of 2 road games. This is because teams tend to do better in their 2nd straight road game than their first one, but lines don’t really adjust for this. Teams are 236-254 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.97 points per game, as opposed to 338-473 straight up in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 2.98 points per game. The Cardinals are the pick, but I wouldn’t put money on them this week.
Arizona Cardinals 24 New Orleans Saints 20
Pick against the spread: Arizona -2.5