Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-1) at New Orleans Saints (4-2)
Typically, NFL teams gradually lose talent as the season goes on, with players getting hurt as the season goes on. The Saints haven’t followed that pattern though, as they entered the season missing several key players, lost a few more players along the way, but are now as complete as they’ve been all season, with several key players returning over the past two weeks. Last week, they got back a pair of defensive starters, edge defender Marcus Davenport linebacker Kwon Alexander, as well as left tackle Terron Armstead and center Erik McCoy, who are among the best players in the league at their respective positions.
This week, they will get back interior defender David Onyemata, who is also an above average starter. They aren’t 100% healthy, but they are in much better shape than they’ve been in all season and, overall, I have them 3.5 points above average in my roster rankings in their current form. The Saints typically get better as the season goes on anyway, as they have covered at a 59.5% rate in week 6 or later since 2011.
The Saints didn’t play particularly well last week, even after getting back the players they did, barely beating the Seahawks without Russell Wilson in Seattle, but the Saints could have been caught looking forward to this matchup against the Buccaneers, which is a big game in the division against the team who ended their season in the playoffs last year and a big revenge game for former Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, who now starts for New Orleans.
The Buccaneers are one of the top teams in the league, but they are even in the point differential on the road this season, so it wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see them struggle to pull away from a Saints team that is above average in their own right, led by one of the most talented defenses in the league. My calculated line has the Buccaneers as field goal favorites at best, so we’re getting good value with the Saints at +4.5, even before we take into account that they might have the extra motivation in this matchup. I wouldn’t make a big bet on the Saints, but they should be the right side.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 26 New Orleans Saints 24
Pick against the spread: New Orleans +4.5