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Bay Buccaneers vs. New Orleans Saints Pick.
New Orleans Saints (4-1 SU, 3-2 ATS) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-2 SU, 2-3 ATS), 4:15 p.m. EST, Week 6 NFL, Sunday, October 16, 2011, Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla., TV: FOX
by Badger, NFL Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: N.O. -4.5/TB +4.5
Over/Under Total: 49.5
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If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are going to claw their way to the top of the NFC South standings then this is the week when they will have to make their move, since they host the division rival New Orleans Saints at home in Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.
The Saints sit alone in first place in the NFC South and have won four straight since losing to the Green Bay Packers in the NFLs kickoff opener, including a come-from-behind, 30-27, victory over the Carolina Panthers last weekend. Drew Brees found Pierre Thomas for a short touchdown with only 50 seconds remaining in the game to help the Saints fend off Cam Newton and the Panthers upset bid.
Theyll take on a Tampa Bay team that is still smarting from a disastrous road trip to San Francisco last weekend, losing by a 48-3 score in a game where nothing went right for the Buccaneers. Quarterback Josh Freeman and the Bucs offense could only muster 274 yards of total offense and turned the ball over three times, and the Bucs defense was tattooed by Frank Gore and the 49ers offense to the tune of 418 yards in the lopsided loss on the West Coast.
But a new week in the NFL brings a new challenge for the young Buccaneers, as they will try and right the ship at Raymond James Stadium when the Saints come calling on Sunday.
Oddsmakers originally opened the Sunday afternoon NFC South showdown with the Saints as 5-point favorites on the road. The opening point spread seems to be spot on for the most part too, since the early action at the betting window has only caused the number to drop the hook to Saints minus -4.5-points at most of the sportsbooks in Las Vegas and around the Internet.
The over/under total opened at 49 and it has only seen a half-point of line movement up to 49.5 at most sportsbooks as the book managers try and eliminate the possibility of the game ending in a push. There are a few books listing the total as high as 50, but for the most part 49.5 seems to be where the total will close when kickoff approaches on Sunday.
The Buccaneers will have their hands full on defense because the Saints offense is hitting on all cylinders like they did during their Super Bowl run two years ago.
Brees is throwing the ball with accuracy (69.4 comp. %, 102.3 QB rating) and the Saints are averaging over 336 yards a game in the air. Tight end Jimmy Graham is emerging as his favorite target, and with Thomas healthy again to join a trio of Mark Ingram and Darren Sproles out of the backfield the Saints have weapons galore at the disposal of Brees when they have the rock.
They shouldnt run into much resistance either, as the Bucs defense doesnt have a defensive ranking over 20th in the NFL. That 20th ranking, their pass defense at 254.6 yards per game, will surely get tested this week with Brees and coach Sean Peyton calling the shots. The Bucs defense does play better at home, as they did in holding the Falcons to 13 points a few weeks ago, with their points allowed average dropping six points (19 ppg at home to 25 ppg on the road) when they have home cooking.
When TB has the ball they must do a better job of taking care of the ball. Freeman has a tendency to try and make plays out of the pocket when his protection breaks down, which can end up being a double-edged sword. The Bucs also have to do a better job of scoring in the red zone, since they have little trouble moving the ball at times (336.6 ypg 20th) but it doesnt always translate into points (17.4 ppg 28th).
What will be interesting to watch is how well Freeman and his offensive line handle the Saints blitz schemes. New Orleans is one of the heaviest blitz teams in the league, and while Freeman is a big, strong kid he might be forced to take what they give them instead of forcing things downfield.
Ironically, these two teams split the season series last year but they did it by winning on the road. New Orleans beat the Bucs in Tampa in October, 31-6, as 5.5-point favorites, but the Buccaneers returned the favor in January but beating the Saints in the Superdome, 23-13.
The same scenario (winning on the road) played out in 2009 too, with the Saints taking home a lopsided 38-7 victory in Raymond James Stadium in November of that year. In fact, if you take it out further youll find that the road team is 13-3 ATS in the last 16 head-to-head meetings.
All told the series is very even, both on the field and at the betting window, going 5-5 SU since 2006 and 5-5 ATS for bettors.
But with all of that said, there are two very interesting betting trends to consider. Within the NFC South division the Saints are just 4-10 ATS in their last 14 tries, while the Bucs are a solid 4-1 ATS going back a short sample of the last five tries.
The under also is a strong trend play, going 10-2 in the Saints last 12 games versus an NFC South opponent. The under is also 9-3 in the Buccaneers last 12 games versus an NFC South foe, and a perfect 5-0 in the last five times these two have met head-to-head.
Badgers Pick: Sooner or later the Saints will stumble, and I got to believe the Buccaneers will be viewing this game as a must-win after last weeks debacle. I like the Bucs as a home dog here, but I think Im going to take the safer trend play and take the under on Sunday. Im taking the under of 49.5.
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