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New England Patriots vs. New Orleans Saints Preview and Pick

New England Patriots (7-3 SU, 5-4-1 ATS) vs. New Orleans Saints (10-0 SU, 7-3 ATS), 8:30 p.m. EST, Week 12 NFL, Monday Night Football, November 30, 2009, Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans, La., TV: ESPN
by Badger of

Point Spread: Patriots +3/Saints -3
Over/Under: 56

After a couple of weeks of having to watch losing teams in Monday Night Football duds, this week ESPN gets to host an instant classic between the reigning AFC darling New England Patriots with quarterback Tom Brady and the undefeated New Orleans Saints who are suddenly the favorite in the NFC.

The AFC’s best versus the NFC’s best, in what ESPN is sure to cover from 16 different angles, a potential Super Bowl matchup preview in primetime.

New England is arguably a 4th-down call by Bill Belichick away from beating the Colts and staying at the top of the AFC hierarchy in everyone’s mind, and if you don’t buy that argument than maybe the way they bounced back after the “controversy” with a resounding 31-14 victory over the New York Jets last weekend is worthy of notice.

The Saints have been virtually unstoppable, even by themselves, as they continue to roll along with a 38-7 victory over Tampa Bay last Sunday. There’s no doubt that head coach Sean Peyton and quarterback Drew Brees are ready to test their wits against the Brady-Belichick combo that has been the standard of late, to see how good the Saints really are this season.

All of this under the lights of Monday Night Football, finally.

And don’t think for a second the sportsbooks in Las Vegas and offshore haven’t been waiting for this game. They’ve spent time on this game to get the number right and opened the game with the Saints listed as the standard 3-point favorite at home. So far they’ve balanced the take since the point spread has yet to move in either direction.

The over/under total opened at 56 for what oddsmakers expect to be a shootout, but it has since moved the hook in either direction so you can find the number now from 55.5 to 56.5 if you’re shopping around for half-points.

This game has all sorts of potential on offense.

Brees and the Saints are No. 1 in yards (420.6 ypg) and scoring (36.9 ppg). Brady and the Pats are No. 2 in yards (416.1 ypg) and No. 3 in scoring (29 ppg). Both teams seem to have their running games healthy and peaking right now. There is a reason why the oddsmakers opened this game at 56.

So rather than bore you with more glowing offensive stats, let’s move on to where the game will truly be won or lost … defense.

The Patriots have turned over personnel and moved on with young talent built through the draft to become the NFL’s 6th best defense overall (286.7 ypg) and the 2nd-best in scoring defense allowing just 16.4 points per game. If the Saints really try and achieve the offensive balance they had last week versus the Bucs (183 rush-187 pass) by running the football more, they might be able to take advantage of the Pats weak link versus the run (109.4 ypg – 14th).

The Saints defense has turned heads, and also turned a lot of games around, with all of their defensive touchdowns this season (7), but the unit as a whole is average (330.6 ypg – 17th) and is experiencing injury issues in the secondary as the season comes down the homestretch.

The Saints lost corner Tracey Porter to a knee injury last week, so they went out and signed former Saints corner Mike McKenzie off the street to a free agent deal this week. The return of the other starting corner, Jabari Greer, is likely by Monday (listed as probable), but with safety Darren Sharper already playing dinged up and McKenzie fresh off the couch, the Saints secondary could get picked apart by Brady if he has time in the pocket. The Saints might get tackle Sedrick Ellis back from injury this week too, which would help keep Brady from having too much time in the pocket.

The history between these two teams is rare. New England won the last time they met at home in Gillette Stadium in 2005, 24-17, to make it three wins in a row in the heads-up series. The other two wins in the streak coming in 2001 (a 34-17 NE win) and 1998 (a 30-27 NE win in the only game versus the Pats in the Superdome since 1986).

Prior to that the Saints owned the series, winning three straight from 1998 back through 1989.

More importantly for gamblers, the Saints have owned this series at the window, covering the point spread in the last meeting and six of the seven lifetime meetings between the two (6-1 ATS).

The over is 6-1 in the head-to-head series, including both games in the Superdome, but they’ve never had to chase a number like 56 for a total. Their last meeting in ’05 closed with a 48 total, the highest total they’ve had in the series, and ironically the only game that has finished under in the series history.

Badger’s Pick: The Saints should be ready for this game, but their banged up secondary scares the pants off me with Brady on the other sideline. The Pats are battled-tested too, whereas the Saints are coming off of back-to-back games against the Rams and Bucs. I guess what I’m saying is, I’ll take Brady on Monday Night plus points if you’re giving them to me. Take New England plus 3 points.

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