“Betting the obvious” isn’t supposed to work this well. The dominant New Orleans Saints have covered NINE straight games coming into Thursday’s nationally televised dalliance with the Dallas Cowboys (FOX, 8:20 p.m. ET).
Oddsmakers can’t make the lines high enough. The market got close Thanksgiving night when New Orleans (-13) beat Atlanta 31-17. It took the Saints going at about three-quarter speed to make backers sweat. New Orleans was outgained 366-312. Drew Brees had a very quiet passing line (by his standards) of 15-22-1-171. Saints cashed anyway.
Overlooked in all of this season’s highlight-reel performances are important things the Saints offense ISN’T doing. It’s easy to see what they are doing. While gaining yards and scoring touchdowns, the Saints AREN’T turning the ball over, AREN’T committing penalties, AREN’T taking sacks, and AREN’T being forced to punt as often as other elite offenses.
Check out these NFL category rankings entering Week 13. Notice how New Orleans ranks better in the “aren’ts” than in gaining yards.
Saints Marching In
#1 in fewest giveaways
#1 in fewest offensive penalties
#1 in sack avoidance
#1 in 4th down conversion rate
#2 in drive points
#3 in red zone TD percentage
#5 in total yards gained
#6 in passing yards
#6 in rushing yards
#6 in 3rd down conversion rate
Drive points are those scored (or allowed) on drives of 60 yards or more. VSiN keeps those by hand from box scores that itemize scoring drives. We’ll be sending out updated offensive and defensive per-game averages every Wednesday the rest of the season in our free daily emails (register at vsin.com). New Orleans has scored 276 drive points through 11 games, only one behind the 277 posted by Kansas City.
Those composite rankings are an important reminder that efficient execution is critical when it comes to beating market expectations. High yardage teams can burn money if they turn the ball over too often, commit too many holding penalties, or create false hope with occasional big plays amidst blind alley series that result in punts.
Efficient teams also benefit from the implosions of opponents who must play from behind. The Saints can get scoreboard distance QUICKLY if the other team stumbles. That was a key element in consecutive double-digit wins over Minnesota, the Los Angeles Rams, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and Atlanta.
Can Dallas hang within the number Thursday night? It will take clean execution from a Cowboys’ offense that currently ranks #3 in fewest offensive penalties and #4 in fewest giveaways…but a more disappointing #23 in drive points and #30 in sack avoidance.
Worth noting that New Orleans is overdue for a complacent effort given the dearth of recent tests. Is this the week the Saints march finally stumbles?
New Orleans isn’t the only high-octane offense cashing tickets this season. Kansas City is 8-2-1 ATS, New England 7-4 ATS, and Pittsburgh 6-4-1 ATS. Other top money-makers without the benefit of explosive offenses are Chicago 8-3 ATS, Washington 7-4 ATS, Cleveland 7-4 ATS, and Seattle 6-3-2 ATS.
Worst money burners to date are: the NY Jets 3-8 ATS, Philadelphia 3-8 ATS, Oakland 3-8 ATS, Atlanta 3-8 ATS, San Francisco 3-8 ATS, and Jacksonville 3-6-2 ATS. That’s three playoff teams from last year in the league’s bottom six market performers. Philadelphia and Atlanta jump out because offseason rules changes should have helped those offenses become even more explosive.