Musical chairs must not use jazz.
The New Orleans Saints were the odd team out in the race for the top two seeds in the NFC. But betting markets still have the fleur-de-lis favored ahead of second-seeded Green Bay and just behind top-seeded San Francisco on championship futures boards.
Drew Brees & Co. will visit Lambeau Field next weekend if they beat Minnesota on Sunday. The first step in the Saints’ potential march to a title kicks off an NFC doubleheader:
— New Orleans (-7.5) vs. Minnesota (1:05 p.m. ET, FOX)
Minnesota: No. 16 offense, No. 14 defense, No. 25 schedule, plus-11 turnover margin
New Orleans: No. 9 offense, No. 11 defense, No. 13 schedule, plus-15 turnover margin
Those aren’t exactly juggernaut numbers for New Orleans, though the offense might have ranked higher if Brees hadn’t missed several games with an injury.
A great turnover differential is more of a weapon against non-contenders than it is against quality opponents that know how to execute. Minnesota also had a strong differential, granting that it came against a softer schedule.
On the whole, our key indicator stats show why New Orleans will probably close as nearly a touchdown favorite, but they don’t indicate a blowout. And frankly, they don’t suggest a road sweep of the Packers and Niners either.
Minnesota would be close to an auto-bet above a TD if it hadn’t crashed and burned in a recent Monday night home loss to Green Bay. That version of the Vikings has little chance here. It’s up to Kirk Cousins to right the ship.
Closing out wild-card weekend:
— Seattle (-1.5) at Philadelphia (4:40 p.m. ET, NBC)
Seattle: No. 8 offense, No. 26 defense, No. 1 schedule, plus-12 turnover margin
Philadelphia: No. 14 offense, No. 10 defense, No. 32 schedule, -3 turnover margin
Seattle may have peaked too early, hurt by a rash of late-season injuries. The Seahawks still earned the right to face the worst team in the playoffs.
Look at those strength-of-schedule rankings. Best and worst in the NFL. Imagine the stats (and perceptions) if Seattle had played the easiest schedule — and imagine how bad the Eagles would look if they had played the toughest. Sloppy Philadelphia posted a negative turnover differential against an easy slate.
At full strength, Seattle would have opened at higher than a field goal. Sharps didn’t show any interest in driving the line that high through the week. If the line sticks in the plus-1.5 to plus-2.5 range Sunday morning, pro bettors will use the Eagles in six-point teasers that would cross both key numbers of 3 and 7 (probably paired with the Saints coming down from the other direction). If the public pushes the Seahawks to -3, sharp dog lovers would jump in on Philly.
The Eagles catch a break facing a watered-down version of the Seahawks. They will be much bigger underdogs next week if they spring this small upset.