2008 NFLX: New Orleans Saints vs. Arizona Cardinals Preview and Pick

New Orleans Saints vs. Arizona Cardinals -2, 35, 8 pm Eastern Thursday, ESPN
NFLX Preview by Zman of Predictem.com

The New Orleans Saints, coming off a disappointing 7-9 campaign last season, open their 2008 exhibition season with a visit to the desert to play the Arizona Cardinals, who went 8-8 under a first-year head coach last season.

NFL Sportsbooks are listing Arizona as 2 1/2-point home favorites for Thursday’s game, with a total of 35. The Cardinals are also listed at right around -140 on the moneyline, with New Orleans getting +120.

New Orleans made a run to the NFC championship game two seasons ago, but an 0-4 start last year proved tough to recover from. QB Drew Brees threw for 4,400 yards and 28 TDs last season, and WR Marques Colston caught 98 ball for over 1,200 yards. The Saints ranked 4th in the league in total offense with 361 YPG, and 3rd in passing at 270 YPG. But the running game, thanks to an early-season injury to RB Deuce McAllister and less-than-stellar play from Reggie Bush, ranked just 28th at 92 YPG.

Meanwhile, the New Orleans defense ranked 26th overall at 348 YPG, and 30th vs. the pass at 245 YPG.

On the other side of this match-up, the Cardinals won their last two games last year to finish at 8-8 in their first season under coach Ken Whisenhunt. QB Matt Leinart piloted Arizona to a 3-2 start before breaking his collarbone. But veteran Kurt Warner stepped in and threw for over 3,400 yards and 27 TDs, helping the Cards hit the 30-point mark six times in their last 11 games.

Arizona ranked 12th in total offense last year at 344 YPG, but only 29th in rushing at 90 YPG. RB Edgerrin James ran for 1,200 yards, but averaged just 3.8 YPC, and has lost the ability to break long runs.

The Cardinals also ranked 17th in total defense at 330 YPG, and 9th vs. the run at 98 YPG, but 28th vs. the pass at 232 YPG and 27th in points allowed at 25 per game.

These two teams met in week 15 last season, with the Saints coming up with a 31-24 victory as four-point home chalk. New Orleans spotted Arizona an early TD, rallied to take a 28-14 lead in the 3rd quarter, and hung on from there. The Saints out-gained the Cards by over 100 yards and held a nearly-four-minute time-of-possession advantage. And even without McAllister and Bush, New Orleans out-rushed Arizona 114-103. The game also went over its total of 49 while still in the 3rd quarter.

Brian St. Pierre, a five-year man out of Boston College, follows Leinart and Warner on the Cardinals QB depth chart. On the other sidelines, veteran Mark Brunell and 2nd year man Tyler Palko follow Brees on the Saints QB chart.

As with almost all NFL pre-season games, many key veteran players will sit out Thursday’s game, including Colston, TE Jeremy Shockey and McAllister for the Saints, and WR Anquan Boldin for the Cards.

In two pre-seasons under head coach Sean Payton, New Orleans is 4-5 straight up and 3-5 against the spread, while the totals are 2-4-2.

Last year, their first under coach Whisenhunt, the Cardinals lost all four of their exhibition games, and covered just one spread. And three of their four pre-season games went over the totals, and rather easily.

Zman’s Pick: I like the Cardinals to win tonight!