Did the New Orleans Saints peak too soon? That’s a critical question to answer before Monday night’s road battle with the Carolina Panthers (ESPN, 8:20 p.m. ET), and if you’re betting the NFC or NFL futures board.
If the Saints did peak too soon, then they’ll be overpriced the rest of the season…and much less scary in the playoffs than they looked when crushing collapsing Cincinnati 51-14 and injury-riddled Philadelphia 48-7. Maybe the Rams, Bears, Cowboys, and Seahawks have slightly better shots than futures prices are suggesting.
Let’s accept that New Orleans is ideally suited to dominate soft opposition on fast surfaces in a season when passing the ball is easier than ever because of rules changes. What will happen in January against playoff-caliber foes? The Saints have stumbled a bit the last three weeks. And two of the games were against non-playoff teams.
In their last three games…
- The Saints only gained 312 yards and scored 17 drive points (those scored on drives of 60 yards or more) at home against reeling Atlanta on Thanksgiving night. The Falcons turned the ball over four times to create a misleadingly comfortable 31-17 win for New Orleans.
- The Saints only gained 176 yards and scored 10 drive points on the road against Dallas the next Thursday night. That was the loss that ended a long winning streak. New Orleans managed just 3.6 yards-per-play and 3 of 11 on third down tries in a 13-10 loss to a possible playoff opponent.
- The Saints only gained 298 yards while scoring 0 drive points on the road at inconsistent Tampa Bay last Sunday. They did rally from a 14-3 halftime deficit to win and cover 28-14. But, gaining only 4.8 yards-per-play on a soft defense is a red flag, even if surface conditions weren’t ideal.
It helps to look at defensive quality in those games. New Orleans was awful on offense against the #4 ranked Dallas defense, then didn’t shine vs. #26 Atlanta nor #27 Tampa Bay.
Defensive rankings for possible playoff foes: #3 Chicago, #4 Dallas, #18 Seattle, #19 Los Angeles Rams.
New Orleans does control its own destiny to own home field advantage through the NFC brackets. That would help guarantee a fast track in the games that matter most (plus, the Super Bowl will be indoors in Atlanta). Monday night, Carolina ranks #17 defensively on the season. That will give analysts a good read on what Drew Brees and company are capable of doing right now vs. “average” defenses.
It’s important for bettors to avoid the temptation to remember “peak” performances for contenders. Outliers provide false confidence, and can inflate point spreads for favorites…or lower futures prices to unreasonable returns.
It’s true in any sport, championships aren’t won six weeks before the playoffs. What bettors learn in the Saints’ three final games…at Carolina, vs. Pittsburgh, and vs. Carolina…might be more relevant than blowouts in old headlines. Let’s look for blowouts (and big yardage production) in new headlines.