The New Orleans Saints deserved a better fate in 2013. They went 11-5, but the defense improved by 150 points with Sean Payton back and the addition of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who had a lot to prove. The Saints lost three of their final five games, including a last-second loss at Carolina and a complete drubbing at Seattle. The offense wasn’t as prolific as it has been in past years due to eight missed field goals and some red zone struggles, but the yardage totals were certainly there.
After a down year following Bountygate in 2012, the Saints were back in double-digits in the win column for the fourth time in five seasons. They were the final wild card in the NFC and took care of the Philadelphia Eagles on the road before falling to the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round.
The defense was a huge story, going from 31st in points allowed and 32nd in yards allowed to fourth-best in both categories with the same finish in turnover margin at 14th. Ryan’s blitz-happy defense went from 30 sacks in 2012 to 49 sacks in 2013, the fourth-most.
Unfortunately for the Saints, there are heavy losses on both sides of the ball to contend with this season. Losses include Darren Sproles, who had 124 offensive touches for 824 yards and four touchdowns, two 10-game starters in the secondary in Malcolm Jenkins and Jabari Greer, and depth players like Roman Harper and Jonathan Vilma, who missed the season because of knee surgery.
At Sportsbook.ag, bettors are laying heavy chalk on New Orleans’s win total with the line set at 9.5 and -200 on the over. At 5Dimes.eu, bettors can get a 9 for New Orleans’s win total, but they will have to pay -205 to do so. The best line for the over may be at BetOnline.ag where bettors can lay -175 on New Orleans over 9.5.
Lines courtesy of CG Technologies:
|9||@ Carolina (Thu)||+2.5|
|15||@ Chicago (Mon)||+3|
|17||@ Tampa Bay||N/A|
Along with their NFC South matchups, the Saints draw the NFC North and AFC North, which should be advantageous to them. The Saints travel to Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Chicago in those matchups. Their second-place schedule and national TV interest also gives them matchups against San Francisco and Dallas. Cole Ryan has the Saints schedule ranked in a tie for 23rd, but the Falcons and Buccaneers are expected to improve.
There are a couple of very tricky scheduling spots for the Saints. The first is a Thursday night meeting in Carolina immediately following a home game against Green Bay. Short weeks because of Monday night football at Pittsburgh and hosting Atlanta could also be a bit of a hurdle. The Saints also play just two home games at the Superdome prior to Week Eight.
The Saints are favored in nine of the 15 lined games with a pick ‘em and a possible road favorite spot in Week One at Atlanta depending how the Falcons look entering the season. It’s interesting to note that the biggest underdog line for the Saints is a +3 at Chicago for a chilly Monday Nighter in mid-December.
Why bet the over?
Jimmy Graham furthered his status as an elite tight end and a matchup nightmare with a 1,200-yard, 16 touchdown season for the Saints. He is the definition of a game-changer because of how impossible it is to gameplan for an asset like that given the other weapons at Drew Brees’s disposal. Six different players caught 30 or more passes for the Saints. Even though Lance Moore is gone, it’s safe to say that his 37 catches and then some are going to go to first-round pick Brandin Cooks, who was clearly one of the best receivers in college football last season. There wasn’t a lot of talk about Cooks, an Oregon State product, but he runs a 4.33 40 and has excellent hands.
As was mentioned above, the Saints had the yardage to put up a similar amount of points to previous seasons, but Garrett Hartley shanked eight field goals in 30 tries and the Saints ranked 12th in red zone scoring. A big part of the Saints offense was to get their running backs in space to create, but there’s clearly less space in the red zone. Expect an adjustment from the offense to find creative ways to get Marques Colston and Cooks open.
The Saints improved dramatically on defense, in large part because of their ability to get after the quarterback. Stability from the defense and a coordinator like Rob Ryan can lead to a lot of great things for a team with this sort of offensive prowess. The Saints can draft for need, as they did in the draft with Stanley-Jean Baptiste, who should start right away with the losses in the secondary, and players like Vinnie Sunseri and Ronald Powell. Jairus Byrd was also a quality free agent signing. The message is clear from the Saints. They will get after the quarterback.
What’s most impressive about the Saints point differential is that they posted an equal turnover margin with 19 on each side of the ball. The Saints will keep taking care of the football, but you have to expect more turnovers on defense with the way that they pressure the quarterback. The Saints were fourth in protecting the ball, and first in time of possession as a result, but just 29th in taking it away. With a responsible quarterback like Brees, the turnover margin should improve as the Saints add playmakers to Ryan’s defense.
Why bet the under?
There are a lot of losses to account for. Darren Sproles took over the part of the offense that Reggie Bush was responsible for and thrived in that role, but he bolted for Philadelphia. With the blitz-happy scheme under Rob Ryan, safeties are critical and the Saints lost a good one in Malcolm Jenkins. The loss of Jabari Greer to a pass defense that struggled when the quarterback got the ball away could also be a big deal.
To throw a wet blanket on the strides that the defense made last season, they probably overachieved. They were 29th in turnovers, which put extra added pressure on them to make stops on third down. That’s exactly what they did. They held opponents to a 34.2 percent third down conversion rate. But, they ranked 18th in red zone defense, allowed 4.6 yards per carry, and allowed a 60 percent completion rate. A similar turnover rate is probably going to lower their overall numbers because teams will adjust to the blitz package.
The Saints also stayed remarkably healthy on offense. They only lost four starts on the offensive line and all but two of the skill players suited up for at least 11 games. Brees started all 16 games. Staying healthy is a skill and maybe the Saints just have healthier players than other teams, but once offensive line shuffling starts to happen, that’s when teams start to falter. There’s no way a bettor can bank on 76 starts out of 80 for the five offensive linemen.
Pick: Over 9.5 (-175) (BetOnline)
This is a very tricky number for the Saints because it looks so low, but it has to be set that way for a reason. That reason is the expectation there will be more parity in the NFC South as the Panthers slowly regress, the Falcons and Buccaneers improve, and everybody beats everybody in divisional play. From a talent standpoint, the Saints are still the best, and most dangerous, team in this division.
The losses are a concern, but Jairus Byrd is a nice replacement to play alongside Kenny Vaccaro and Sproles’s touches will simply be reallocated to somebody else. Some regression from the defense is possible, but the offense will likely improve with field goals and turning red zone trips into touchdowns to negate any defensive downgrade. The Saints should win this division and could be a Super Bowl contender if they avoid a trip to Seattle in the playoffs.
Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball BangTheBook.com podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.