Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-2) at New Orleans Saints (3-1)
The Saints have won both games started by Teddy Bridgewater, but they can’t get Drew Brees back quickly enough, as their offense has completely sputtered in his absence, even as much talent as they have on offense around the quarterback. In 27 drives since taking over for Brees, Bridgewater has led the Saints to just 46 first downs and 3 touchdowns on 160 plays, a 30.63% first down rate, which would be the 4th worst in the NFL. By comparison, the Saints had a 43.17% first down rate in 2018.
As a result, the Saints have actually lost the first down battle in both games started by Bridgewater, winning the two games by just a combined 8 points, despite a +2 turnover margin and a +2 return touchdown margin, two things that tend to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. On the season, they rank just 27th in first down rate at -4.24% and that includes 12 drives where Drew Brees was under center. Their defense gets a boost with stud defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins returning from injury, even if he might not be 100% immediately, but their offense should remain a concern until Brees returns.
Unfortunately, we’ve lost all line value with the Buccaneers, the Saints’ opponent this week, as this line has shifted from New Orleans -6.5 to New Orleans -3, even though the Saints pulled the upset win at home over the Cowboys last week. That’s because the Buccaneers pulled the upset in Los Angeles last week against the Rams, but I’m not as impressed by that as most, for three reasons.
For one, the Rams were an overrated team that could have been 1-2 instead of 3-0 if their first opponents (Panthers and Saints) had healthy quarterbacks. Two, the Rams were in a tough spot, with a key divisional game against the Seahawks on deck on Thursday Night Football. Three, the Buccaneers actually lost the first down rate battle in that game by 4.18%, despite winning by 15. They won the turnover margin by 3, but that tends to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis.
Ranking 16th on the season in first down rate at +0.77%, the Buccaneers seem to be improved on both sides of the ball with new head coach Bruce Arians and his staff, but they might be a little overrated after last week’s win. The Saints may be overrated too because winning has diverted attention from how much their offense has slowed, but I still have this line calculated at New Orleans -3.5, as they still have a lot of talent around the quarterback, especially on defense. There’s not nearly enough here to bet the Saints with confidence, but they seem like the right side for pick ‘em purposes.
New Orleans Saints 20 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 16
Pick against the spread: New Orleans -3.5