Kansas City Chiefs at New Orleans Saints: 2020 Week 15 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (12-1) at New Orleans Saints (10-3)

The Saints lost last week in big upset fashion, losing as 8-point road favorites in Philadelphia, ending a 9 game winning streak in the process. I don’t really hold that against them though, as the Eagles have a solid defense and got better quarterback play from new starter Jalen Hurts, while the Saints were caught off guard, facing a sub-.500 team with an unfamiliar quarterback under center, the game before this huge game against the defending Super Bowl champs. The Saints should be much more focused this week and will likely prove last week was largely a fluke, as is usually the case after big upsets like that, as teams cover at a 60.5% rate historically after a loss as road favorites of 7 points or more.

Even with last week’s loss included, the Saints still sit at 10-3 and have really rebounded from their slow 1-2 start, as they typically do, going 4-17-1 ATS since 2010 in weeks 1 and 2 and 91-58-7 ATS in week 3-17. Making that even more impressive is the fact that they really haven’t been healthy all season. They lost #1 wide receiver Michael Thomas in week 1, followed shortly after by some defensive starters and they haven’t been at full strength since.

Their defensive starters later returned and the Saints’ defense has been on fire since, while Thomas returned as well a few weeks later, but in his first game back, quarterback Drew Brees got hurt and went on to miss the next 4 and a half games. Brees is back this week, but, at the same time, they will be without Thomas again, as the fates seem to be coinciding to make sure one of the most accomplished pass catching duos in the league barely gets to play together this season.

Even with Thomas out, I still like the Saints’ bounce back chances, as they really haven’t been healthy all season and have still managed to be very effective, not just in the win/loss column, but also ranking 3rd in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +3.43%. That lines up with my roster rankings, which have the Saints ranked 4th even without Thomas. At their best, the Saints are probably the best team in the league and, though we may never actually see them at full strength, they still have enough talent on both sides of the ball to still be one of the top teams in the league, even when missing key players.

The Chiefs are obviously a high level team, but even they shouldn’t be getting a field goal on the road in New Orleans, as these two teams aren’t far apart in my rankings, even with the Saints missing Thomas. The Saints have minimal homefield advantage this season with limited attendance in the stands, but, even still, I have this line calculated at New Orleans -1, so we’re getting great line value with the Saints. 

I normally don’t pick against the Chiefs unless I have a good reason to (28-20-2 ATS with Patrick Mahomes), but you could say the same thing about picking against the Saints after the first few weeks of the season, so I have no concerns betting big against the Chiefs this week. In fact, without a better option, this is going to be my Pick of the Week. The money line at +140 is also a smart play as this line is really off and should probably favor the Saints, even if only a little bit.

New Orleans Saints 35 Kansas City Chiefs 33 Upset Pick +140

Pick against the spread: New Orleans +3

Confidence: Pick of the Week

New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles: 2020 Week 14 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (10-2) at Philadelphia Eagles (3-8-1)

It may seem crazy, but there are reasons to like the Eagles this week and I strongly considered betting on them as home underdogs of a touchdown against the Saints. The Eagles’ offensive struggles have been well documented this season, but what’s been lost in that is that their defense has played pretty well, ranking 9th in first down rate allowed over expected and, while their offensive issues go beyond their quarterback play, it’s hard to imagine their offense being worse with Jalen Hurts under center than Carson Wentz, given how much Wentz has regressed and struggled this year. Perhaps the rookie Hurts can give this offense somewhat of a spark, especially in his debut against a team that hardly has any professional tape on him in this offense.

The Saints have been a juggernaut this season, going on their annual run (91-57-7 ATS in weeks 3-17 since 2010) and winning 9 straight since their 1-2 start, including 3 straight with backup quarterback Taysom Hill in the lineup. Their wins with Hill in the lineup have been much more defensive led though and this could easily be a relatively low scoring defensive battle, in which case having a full touchdown of cushion with the home team would be very attractive. 

This is also an obvious look ahead spot for the Saints, with a big home game against the Chiefs on deck. Road favorites are just 52-83 ATS before being home underdogs since 2008 and, even if the Saints aren’t home underdogs next week (+3 currently on the early line), the logic still holds that the Saints might not be fully focused for a 3-8-1 team with a defending champs on deck and, as a result, that they could easily be caught off guard by a quarterback who they’ve hardly seen play at the NFL level. We’re not getting quite enough line value with the Eagles to bet money against this Saints juggernaut, but they should be the right side.

Update: This line has moved to up 8, so I’m going to place a small wager on the Eagles. My calculated line is New Orleans -6.5, so we’re getting decent line value with the Eagles, but, more importantly, the Saints are in a tough spot, facing an unfamiliar quarterback, with a much tougher matchup on deck. This should be a close defensive matchup and, barring return touchdowns or something else strange, I would expect a one score game. 

New Orleans Saints 19 Philadelphia Eagles 14

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia +8

Confidence: Medium

New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons: 2020 Week 13 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (9-2) at Atlanta Falcons (4-7)

When these two teams met a couple weeks ago in New Orleans, the Saints won pretty easily by score of 24-9. Saints head coach Sean Payton was credited for his decision to start hybrid player Taysom Hill over backup quarterback Jameis Winston in that game in place of the injured Drew Brees, but ultimately the decision probably didn’t matter, as the Saints won that game primarily with their defense, holding a capable Falcons offense to a 23.73% first down rate that is among the worst single week marks in the league this season. The Saints then got another defensive led victory over a Broncos team that literally didn’t have a quarterback last week, so it’s safe to say the jury is still out on Hill as an NFL quarterback. 

The Saints have arguably the best defense in the NFL, but defensive play tends to be much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offensive play and the Saints aren’t healthy on defense either, with a pair of key players in cornerback Janoris Jenkins and defensive end Marcus Davenport picking up new injuries that will cause them to miss this game. If the Saints’ defense isn’t as dominant as they’ve been recently, the Falcons have a good chance to pull off this upset, especially since the Saints’ offense is also missing a key player beyond Brees, with stud left tackle Terron Armstead out for the second straight week. Meanwhile, the Falcons will have a key player in Julio Jones back from injury after missing the last game and a half, including the majority of the first matchup between these two teams two weeks ago.

The Saints are in a little bit better of a spot, with only an easy trip to Philadelphia on deck, while the Falcons are coming off of a huge upset victory over the Raiders, which typically tends to be a bad betting spot (teams are 32-44 ATS after a home upset victory by 17 points or more as underdogs of 3 points or more), but it’s hard to see the Falcons looking past a huge divisional rival that just beat them recently, so they should be mostly focused for this one. 

The line did move significantly from New Orleans -3.5 on the early line last week to 2.5 this week, a significant swing considering 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal, but this line has crept back up to a field goal in some places, and if we can get a good +3 before gametime, I will probably end up betting on it. The money line is worth a bet as well at +130 because this game should be considered about a toss up.

Atlanta Falcons 24 New Orleans Saints 23 Upset Pick +130

Pick against the spread: Atlanta +2.5

Confidence: Low

New Orleans Saints at Denver Broncos: 2020 Week 12 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (8-2) at Denver Broncos (4-6)

Sean Payton is getting a lot of credit for starting Taysom Hill over Jameis Winston in a 24-9 win over the Falcons, but the decision probably didn’t matter, as that win was really more about the Saints’ defense, which held a decent Falcons offense to just a 23.72% first down rate. That allowed the Saints to run the run heavy offense they wanted to run, which allowed Taysom Hill to avoid being exposed as a passer. The jury is still out on Hill as a starting quarterback, going into just his second career start, but there’s no denying the talent on the rest of this team, and, even with Hill being a questionable starting quarterback, the Saints still rank 6th in my roster rankings. 

In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Saints rank 3rd at +4.15% and are the only team in the league to rank in the top-10 in first down rate over expected on offense (4th at +2.48%) and on defense (8th at -1.67%). That’s despite the fact that the Saints had a lot of injury problems even when Brees was in the lineup, with top wide receiver Michael Thomas (6 games missed), talented defensive linemen Marcus Davenport (4 games) and David Onyemata (1 game), starting cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins (2 games) and Marshon Lattimore (2 games), starting tight end Jared Cook (1 game), and #2 wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (2 games) all missing time with injury earlier in the year and having since returned.

Hill is unlikely to be exposed this week either, with the Saints being 6-point road favorites in Denver. The Broncos rank 30th in first down rate over expected at -4.27% and have one of the most turnover prone quarterbacks in the league under center in Drew Lock, so I would expect them to have a very tough time moving the ball against a Saints defense that is legitimately one of the best in the NFL, which would allow the Saints to run their offense the way they want to run it again this week. 

The Broncos do have a strong defense, ranking 3rd in first down rate allowed over expected at -4.15%, but they’re missing one of the top defensive players in defensive tackle Shelby Harris and defensive play tends to be much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offense, so the Broncos’ defense is unlikely to be as reliably good as their offense is reliably bad. The Saints are a balanced team that is still one of the better teams in the league without Brees and they’re on an impressive run right now, winning 7 straight since starting 1-2, something they seem to do every season, going 89-57-7 ATS in weeks 3-17 since 2010, as opposed to 4-17-1 ATS in weeks 1-2.

The Saints are also in a better spot than the Broncos, who have to turn around and play another tough game against a Chiefs team that has dominated their division in recent years and that blew them out earlier this season, while the Saints only have a rematch against a Falcons team that they just beat easily last week, so they should be fully focused. The Broncos are 13-point underdogs on the early line in Kansas City and teams cover at just a 37.5% rate all-time before being double digit underdogs.

We’re not getting line value with the Saints as 6-point favorites, as New Orleans -6 is right where I have this line calculated, but the Broncos have some key offensive players that seem legitimately questionable in wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, right tackle Demar Dotson, and right guard Graham Glasgow, who would all be big absences if they were unable to go. Depending on what happens with the Broncos’ injury report, I may decide to place a bet on the Saints, especially if this line drops back down to 5.5, where it was on the early line last week. Even if not, the Saints should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

Update: Saints left tackle Terron Armstead is going to be out after testing positive for COVID on Saturday, which is a big blow for a Saints offense against a tough Broncos pass rush. Meanwhile, all three of the Broncos questionable players are expected to play. Despite that, this line has gone up to 6.5 in favor of the Saints in some places. Given all of that, I’m changing this pick to the Broncos. This is a no confidence pick because of the bad spot that the Broncos are in, but my calculated line is now New Orleans -4.5, so this line is off. The Saints should still be able to win this game, but it would be hard to lay this many points with them on the road without Brees and Armstead against a team that isn’t terrible.

Update: Losing Terron Armstead to a positive COVID test the day before the game was a big blow for the Saints, but that’s nothing compared to the Broncos’ situation, as somehow they couldn’t manage to keep their four quarterbacks separate and, as a result, will have to be without all of their quarterbacks this week, with Jeff Driskel testing positive and their other three quarterbacks being close contacts. Instead, the Broncos will have to turn to an undrafted rookie practice squad wide receiver who averaged 5.99 yards per attempt on 251 passes and 4.69 yards per carry on 186 carries as a dual threat quarterback at Wake Forest from 2015 to 2018 before converting to a wide receiver in his final collegiate season in 2019. As a result, this line has ballooned from 6.5 to 14.5.

This is an unprecedented situation so it’s hard to say this with confidence, but that seems like an overreaction. The Broncos’ quarterback play had already been terrible this season and extreme run heavy offenses have had more success than you’d think in the modern NFL. The Broncos still have a great defense and, even with their quarterbacks set to the lowest possible value, I still have the Broncos ahead of the Jets, Bengals, and Jaguars in my roster rankings. My calculated line is Denver +7.5, so we seem to be getting significant line value with them at Denver +14.5. I say seem to be because, again, this is a highly unprecedented situation, so it’s tough to know how to address it. The Broncos should be able to cover that huge spread in what should be a low scoring game overall (teams are 30-20 ATS as underdogs of 14 or more in a game with a total of 39 or less), but I’m not sure if I actually want to bet any money on it. Maybe I’ll be bolder before gametime. For now, it’s a low confidence pick.

Update: I can’t believe I’m doing this, but I’m going to bet on a team that doesn’t have a quarterback. This line has ballooned to 16.5 in some places. With the total at 36.5, the Broncos have a presumed total of 10 points in this game, but they have a decent running game, offensive line, and kicking game, especially at home with the elevation, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Broncos exceed that total.  They would just need to bust one long run and kick a couple of field goals. The Panthers hit that total exactly in 2006 when they ran 52 times for 183 yards in 10-3 win over the Falcons in a game in which they attempted just 7 passes and frequently played without a quarterback on the field.

Even if the Broncos can only hit to 10, the Saints will still need to get to 27 to cover this spread, which is going to be a tough task without their starting quarterback and left tackle against a good defense in a game that figures to have a very slow pace. I mentioned earlier that big favorites typically have trouble covering in games with big totals, but a team being favored this many with this small of a total almost never happens and teams are 1-4 ATS in this spot over the past thirty years. This is a highly unprecedented situation so it’s hard to be too confident, but the Broncos should be a reasonable safe bet at this number.

New Orleans Saints 20 Denver Broncos 10

Pick against the spread: Denver +16.5

Confidence: Medium

Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints: 2020 Week 11 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (3-6) at New Orleans Saints (7-2)

I have been saying all season that I was planning on betting the Saints pretty consistently once they finally got healthy because they were my pre-season #1 team in my roster rankings and because they typically shake off slow starts, going 4-17-1 ATS in weeks 1-2 since 2010 and 88-57-7 ATS in weeks 3-17. The results were great once the Saints were finally all healthy, including a blowout victory in Tampa Bay, but it lasted less than six quarters before Drew Brees suffered a significant rib and lung injury that now has him sidelined for at least three weeks. The Saints were still able to close out the 27-13 victory over the 49ers and they still have a very talented and most healthy roster around the quarterback, but their projection obviously takes a big hit without their signal caller.

In Brees’ absence last week, former Buccaneers starter and current Saints backup Jameis Winston played most of the snaps, playing 34 snaps total, while hybrid player Taysom Hill played 22, and Winston also attempted all 10 of the Saints’ non-Drew Brees pass attempts, but the Saints seem to be throwing everyone a curveball and going with Hill for his first career start. There have been varying reports of how much the Saints plan to use both quarterbacks, from Hill playing all game, to Winston and Hill splitting time based on certain packages, but it’s clear the Saints plan to use Hill more than they’ve ever used him before, particularly as a passer. Hill has just 18 career regular season pass attempts and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if he exceeded that total in this game alone.

The big question is whether that would be a good thing for the Saints or if they would be better served using their two quarterbacks like they did in the second half last week. Hill has made some big passing plays downfield in his career, but he’s never shown consistent accuracy, he has rarely played as a traditional drop back passer outside of the pre-season, and he’s also had some fumbling problems this season. His athleticism will obviously help him, but he’s a 30-year-old quarterback who has never started and didn’t show much as a passer in college, so this move could easily backfire or cause the Saints to have a mid-game pivot to Winston playing more. Hill will have plenty of talent around him, but this Saints passing game takes a big hit with him starting compared to Brees or even compared to Winston.

The Falcons, meanwhile, are relatively healthy coming off of a bye and, even though they haven’t played particularly well this season compared to their easy schedule, ranking 26th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -1.58%, they could easily be 5-4 or 6-3 if not for blowing three nearly impossible to blow leads. They’re also more talented on paper than the statistics suggest they’ve played thus far and could underachieve less going forward, especially since they seem to be playing better since firing Dan Quinn and going with interim head coach Raheem Morris. 

My roster rankings have these teams about even, so with the Saints having minimal fans in attendance for this one, we’re getting good value with the Falcons as more than a field goal underdogs at +3.5. The Saints could still pull out the victory, but about 1 in 4 games are decided by a field goal or less, and I would expect this one to be a close one either way, so the Falcons are worth a bet.

Update: Marshon Lattimore is out for the Saints, despite practicing all week in limited capacity. Lattimore hasn’t played that well this year, so his absence doesn’t move the needle in this game as much as you’d think, but it’s more good news for Atlanta bettors, especially since the line has stabilized at +3.5, rather than dropping to 3.

New Orleans Saints 27 Atlanta Falcons 26

Pick against the spread: Atlanta +3.5

Confidence: Medium

San Francisco 49ers at New Orleans Saints: 2020 Week 10 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (4-5) at New Orleans Saints (6-2)

The Saints started the season 1-2, but I was never that concerned. The Saints typically start slow, going 4-17-1 ATS in week 1 and 2 since 2010, as opposed to 87-57-2 ATS in weeks 3-17, and, while it didn’t seem likely that the Saints would go on a run until they got key players back from injury, most notably #1 wide receiver Michael Thomas, I always expected them to go on a run at some point and to be betting them heavily over that stretch. In Thomas’ first game back since week 1, last week in Tampa Bay against the Buccaneers, the Saints rolled over one of the best teams in the league, winning the first down rate battle by 8.73% in a 38-3 win.

Thomas wasn’t the primary reason for their victory, but he’s obviously one of the top wide receivers in the league and this is such a complete team that Thomas doesn’t necessarily need to dominate every game. In addition to Thomas’ return, the Saints have also gotten back defensive end Marcus Davenport (4 games missed), defensive tackle David Onyemata (1 game), cornerback Janoris Jenkins (2 games), cornerback Marshon Lattimore (1 game), tight end Jared Cook (1 game), and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (2 games) in recent weeks.

Despite all of the players who have missed time for this team thus far, the Saints rank 3rd in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +3.65% and, now healthy, my roster rankings have them as the #1 overall team in the league, as they were coming into this season. This line has shifted from favoring the Saints by 6.5 points on the early line last week to 9.5 this week, in the wake of the Saints’ blowout win and the 49ers’ big loss to the Packers, but I think we’re still getting good line value.

The 49ers are in slightly better shape than last week, but they are still missing starting quarterback Jimmy Garroppolo, running backs Tevin Coleman, Raheem Mostert, and Jeff Wilson, top wide receiver Deebo Samuel, stud tight end George Kittle, their top-2 centers Weston Richburg and Ben Garland, their top-2 edge rushers Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, their top outside cornerback Richard Sherman, their top slot cornerback K’Waun Williams, rotational defensive linemen Ezekiel Ansah and Solomon Thomas, and starting safety Jaquiski Tartt. 

Missing all those players, the 49ers rank just 21st in my roster rankings and I have the Saints calculated at -12. The Saints are also in a good spot with only another easy matchup against the Falcons on deck, as favorites of 6+ are 52-33 ATS since 2018 before being favorites of 6+ again the following week, which the Saints almost definitely will be. The 49ers have double digit losses in three of their past five games, as injuries have piled up and the schedule has gotten tougher, and I would expect this to be another double digit loss. I don’t like the Saints quite as much at -10, but at -9.5, I like the Saints a good amount.

New Orleans Saints 30 San Francisco 49ers 17

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -9.5

Confidence: High

New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2020 Week 9 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (4-3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-2)

When these two teams met back in week 1, the Saints won 34-23 in New Orleans, but the Buccaneers were significantly better in both yards per play (+0.7) and in first down rate (+8.11), losing primarily because of a -3 turnover margin and two Saints return touchdowns, which seemed very unlikely to continue going forward. As a result, the Buccaneers became underrated and I bet on them in each of the next 6 weeks, with the Buccaneers covering in all but one of them, while the Saints have split their 6 games, putting them a game back of the Buccaneers in the NFC South at 4-3. All in all, the Buccaneers rank first in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at 5.46% and look like one of the top Super Bowl contenders in the league.

The Buccaneers have lost one of their key defensive players Vita Vea, but they’ve offset that in recent weeks by having Mike Evans and Chris Godwin both healthy on offense. However, they’ve stopped being underrated as a result of their success and, if anything, have become a little overrated, which teams like the Buccaneers with dominant defenses (#1 in first down rate allowed over expected) tend to be, as defensive play can be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. We saw this last week when the Buccaneers unexpectedly let the underwhelming Giants move the ball against them with relative ease and the Buccaneers’ offense barely had enough to pull out the win. If they can’t continue dominating on defense, far from a given, the Buccaneers will have a tougher time going forward.

The Saints, meanwhile, aren’t too far behind the Buccaneers overall, ranking 7th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +2.03% and are the noticeably better team on offense, ranking 9th in first down rate over expected at +1.86%, while the Buccaneers rank 16th at +0.48%. The Buccaneers have had injuries on offense, most notably to Chris Godwin, who is healthy now, but their offensive injury situation hasn’t compared to the Saints, as the Saints have been without top wide receiver Michael Thomas since week 1 and have had supplementary pass catchers Emmanuel Sanders and Jared Cook miss time as well. 

All three of those players are healthy now, most importantly Thomas who returns for the first time this week. With him back in the lineup, the Saints could easily go back to being the dangerous offense they’ve been in recent years. The Saints have also gotten key players back from injury on defense, with defensive end Marcus Davenport and cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins all missing time earlier this season before returning in recent weeks. 

Now relatively healthy on both sides of the ball, the Saints actually rank atop my roster rankings, slightly ahead of the Buccaneers, who still have a key offensive injury due to the absence of stud guard Ali Marpet, who will miss his first game of the season this week. The Buccaneers will still be tough for the Saints or anyone to beat, but we’re getting 4.5 points with the Saints, so they should be a good bet. My calculated line favors the Buccaneers by a field goal at most and Drew Brees is 28-17 ATS in his Saints career as underdogs of a field goal or more. This should be a close game either way.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24 New Orleans Saints 23

Pick against the spread: New Orleans +4.5

Confidence: Medium

New Orleans Saints at Chicago Bears: 2020 Week 8 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (4-2) at Chicago Bears (5-2)

The Bears are 5-2, but they’re about as bad as a 5-2 team can be. While their five wins have remarkably all come by one score or less, including a pair of wins that both required nearly impossible 4th quarter comebacks, the Bears haven’t been competitive in either of their losses. They needed a last second garbage time touchdown to cut their margin of defeat against the Colts from 16 to 8 and they needed a meaningless defensive touchdown late against the Rams to cut their margin of defeat from 21 to 14. Their average lead ranks just 24th in the league and in terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, they rank 25th at -1.91%.

As bad as that is, there are reasons to believe it will get worse going forward. For one, the Bears have been reliant on their defense so far, ranking 28th in first down rate over expected and 10th in first down rate allowed over expected, and defensive performance tends to be much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offensive performance. If the Bears’ defense happens to have an off game, the Bears don’t really have much of a shot of beating anyone outside of the worst teams in the league. The Bears are also starting to lose key players to injury, particularly on offense, where they will be without a pair of key offensive linemen in James Daniels and Cody Whitehair. Their defense also has a significant injury concern with edge defender Khalil Mack playing at less than 100% recently.

Making matters even worse for the Bears, they have a tough matchup with the Saints this week and are in a tough spot, on a short week, coming off of an ugly performance. Teams are 39-54 ATS since 2002 after a Monday Night Football loss by 17 or more points and, though the Bears technically lost by 14, it would have been 21 if not for that meaningless defensive touchdown. With little time to adjust from last week’s loss, the Bears could easily be blown out again this week, especially since they won’t have the benefit of any fans in the stadium in Chicago this week.

A lot of attention has been given to the Saints’ absences in the receiving corps without their top-2 wide receivers in Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, but the Saints haven’t had Thomas healthy and have had to shuffle things in the receiving corps all year and they still rank 7th in first down rate over expected at +2.59%. The Bears are also missing much about as much on offense as the Saints, which is a big problem because they’ve struggled even when relatively healthy, while the Saints’ defense should be better than their 15th ranked schedule adjusted first down rate allowed, now that key players like Marcus Davenport, Janoris Jenkins, and Marshon Lattimore have returned to the lineup. 

Given that the Saints are healthy defensively now, it’s not a stretch to say these two teams are comparable on the defensive side of the ball, with the Saints also having the massive edge on offense. This line is too low at New Orleans -4, as my calculated line is New Orleans -7.5, so the Saints are worth a bet this week. They should win this one with relative ease against a Bears team that is not nearly as good as their record and that is missing key offensive players.

New Orleans Saints 24 Chicago Bears 16

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -4

Confidence: Medium

Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints: 2020 Week 7 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (3-3) at New Orleans Saints (3-2)

Contrary to pre-season expectations, these two teams have actually been pretty even this season. The Saints rank 9th in first down rate differential when adjusted for schedule at +2.08%, but the Panthers aren’t far behind at +1.08%. However, the Panthers have outplayed their talent level, particularly on defense, and could regress somewhat going forward, while the Saints typically start slow, have had a lot of injury absences thus far this season, and are still one of the most talented teams in the league when closer to full strength.

Given that, I was expecting to take the Saints in this one, even as 7.5-point home favorites over a capable Panthers team that has been competitive in all of their games, but the Saints are going to be without their top-2 wide receivers this week. They have gotten tight end Jared Cook, defensive end Marcus Davenport, and cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Marshon Lattimore (among others) back from injuries that cost them time earlier this season, but I like the Panthers chances of keeping this one close enough to cover.

New Orleans Saints 31 Carolina Panthers 26

Pick against the spread: Carolina +7.5

Confidence: Low

Los Angeles Chargers at New Orleans Saints: 2020 Week 5 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (1-3) at New Orleans Saints (2-2)

This is one of three games that will be played Monday/Tuesday this week and all three games are impossible to make a call on right now because the status of so many players is unknown. In the other two games (Bills/Titans and Patriots/Broncos) the uncertainty is because otherwise healthy players are on the COVID inactive list and could be activated before the game if they can pass protocol. 

In this game, the uncertainty is because the Saints have several players who could return from injury that are listed questionable and practiced all week, but only in a limited fashion, including top wide receiver Michael Thomas, starting defensive end Marcus Davenport, top cornerback Marshon Lattimore, starting tight end Jared Cook, and starting guard Andrus Peat. This game has a line posted, but it’s impossible to pick a side without knowing the status of the aforementioned players.

If the Saints are relatively healthy, I’ll likely bet on them, possibly for a big play. They’ve gotten off to a slow start this season, but they typically start slow before going on a run (4-17-1 ATS in weeks 1-2 since 2010, as opposed to 86-54-2 in weeks 3-17) and if they’re relatively healthy they’re still among the most talented teams in the league. The Chargers, meanwhile, are beat up on both sides of the ball, missing feature back Austin Ekeler, the right side of their offensive line in Trai Turner and Bryan Bulaga, starting defensive end Melvin Ingram, starting cornerback Chris Harris, and possibly #2 wide receiver Mike Williams, not to mention safety Derwin James and linebacker Drue Tranquill, who have been out all season. 

The Chargers don’t get blown out often (just 2 of their last 14 losses coming by more than one score), so they can keep this game close if the Saints are also going to be banged up, but I like a healthy Saints team to win this game with ease, if that ends up being the case. I’m tentatively on the Saints for a low confidence pick, but I’ll have an update for this on Monday, when I will hopefully have more clarity on the other two games as well.

Final Update: The Saints will have all of the aforementioned questionable players except Michael Thomas, who apparently could have gone but was suspended for a fight in practice. Thomas’ absence will hurt, as will starting cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who was ruled out earlier in the week, but this is arguably as healthy as the Saints have been all season, seeing as their injury problems started in week 1. Despite that, this line has dropped down to a touchdown. The Saints also have one advantage that I didn’t mention above, which is that they are going into a bye and home favorites of 7+ are 63-25 ATS before a bye since 2002.

The Chargers typically play teams close and will have wide receiver Mike Williams active, but they’re still so banged up on both sides of the ball, while the Saints are getting healthy quickly and could easily be starting to go on their annual mid-season run. I have 10 points of separation in my roster rankings between these two teams in their current state, so we’re getting significant line value with the host at only -7 and in a great spot as well. I like this for a high confidence pick.

New Orleans Saints 30 Los Angeles Chargers 17

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -7

Confidence: High