New Orleans Saints (5-8 SU, 8-5 ATS) vs. Arizona Cardinals (5-7-1 SU, 4-9 ATS)
NFL Week 15
Date/Time: Sunday, December 18 at 4:05PM EST
Where: University of Phoenix Stadium
by Evergreen, Expert Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: NO +2.5/ARI -2.5
Over/Under Total: 50
There are games that look like great matchups when the NFL schedule is released. Those games get circled by the fans and TV execs as potential playoff previews or, if nothing else, should simply be entertaining contests between two good teams. Iím sure that is what many thought when they saw New Orleans v. Arizona on the Week 15 slate but the season has gotten away from each of these teams and unfortunately this game has little relevance in the larger scheme of things. They play them all anyway and this one could still be a good watch with plenty of offensive starpower looking to finish the season strong. Letís take a look at the Saints/Cardinals matchup.
Youíd expect a couple of five win teams to be closely matched and that is what we see with the online betting sites listing Arizona as modest 2.5 point favorites. About two-thirds of the public money has gone the way of the Cards so far but they will have to buck a 1-6 ATS record in their last seven overall to pay that bet. New Orleans is 7-1 against the spread in their last eight on the road and they are 6-0 ATS in the last six against a sub-.500 opponent.
The Saints come into the week as losers in four of the last five but there has been some hard luck in that run. The two point loss against Denver came via a blocked PAT that would have won the game and the losses to Carolina and Tampa were by five points or fewer. New Orleans has a very nice 8-5 ATS mark on the season despite being on the outside of the playoffs looking in. Drew Brees has been held without a touchdown pass in each of the last two weeks although he did have one called back by a penalty and two dropped scores over that stretch. Iím not sure getting those touchdowns would have amounted to wins for the Saints but the fact is the Saints signal-caller has been a bit better than the simple box score. The top-ranked passing offense in the NFL should be at full strength with WR Michael Thomas back at practice. His presence will allow Brees to have an option on the other side of Patrick Peterson and have a better chance to move the ball against the 2nd best pass defense of the Cards.
Arizona has been dumped in three of their last four but all have been on the road and against good competition. Losses at Minnesota, Atlanta and Miami have scuttled any chance to make the playoffs but there are a lot of teams that have struggled against those opponents. The Cardinals are a run-first offense with David Johnson already over 1,000 yards on the ground with 11 touchdowns. He is active in the pass game as well with 69 catches for 745 yards and four more scores there. Carson Palmer has taken a step back in overall performance but the ball moves in Johnsonís hands and Arizona wins the time of possession battle when things are going right. The Cards should have no issues racking up yards against the 24th ranked defense of the Saints and only two teams give up more points than the 27 currently allowed by New Orleans. The team did part ways with WR Michael Floyd after his DUI arrest, leaving Larry Fitzgerald as the only proven pass catcher for the Cards this Sunday.
The rubber meets the road when the top-ranked yardage offense of the Saints is on the field against the top-ranked yardage defense of the Cardinals. The playmaker advantage probably lies with New Orleans, especially if Arizona is again without Tyrann Mathieu but the Saints are also dealing with a key injury as C Max Unger is listed as questionable. This was never likely to be a pound it out game for the Saints anyway but the absence of Unger would spell a lot of trouble for Mark Ingram and the running game. Willie Snead or Coby Fleener will need to make a few plays to help out Brees. An option over the middle or underneath will be the outlet when Arizona brings pressure as no one is going to have success throwing Petersonís way under pressure. That said, the offensive line has protected Brees with only 20 sacks allowed and the veteran QB knows to get the ball out quick. I wouldnít expect a ton of sacks for Arizona even if they bring extra defenders.
This will most likely be a very quick game. Arizona pounds it out with Johnson averaging 4.4 yards per carry and even the pass-happy Saints are on the plus side in time of possession with Brees completing 70% of his passes. A quick game is typically a close game unless a special teams play or turnover really tilts things. Neither of these squads are going to go away from their very obvious strengths, so it really comes down to who is going to execute.
Bottom line, I donít see Drew Brees going three straight weeks without throwing a touchdown pass and I think he gets more than one. It probably isnít a good thing that the aging QB is still the best player on this team but that is the fact and the Saints will have to lean on Breesí arm to move the ball. The Arizona defense is stout but is playing banged up and short so the Saints offense should be able to put points on the board. A Cardinals offense that is going to ride David Johnson will score points as well so the over looks like a decent bet. I donít think the game reaches shootout levels but a back-and-forth game seems likely and that always makes me want to take the points. It might be that whoever has the ball last is going to win this one so prepare for a nail-biter either way but I like the Saints to sneak out a 28-26 win.
Evergreenís Pick to Cover the Point Spread: New Orleans
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