New Orleans Saints vs. Tennessee Titans Point Spread – Pick Against the Spread

New Orleans Saints (9-3 SU, 8-4 ATS) vs. Tennessee Titans (7-5 SU, 7-5 ATS), 1:00 p.m. EST, Week 14 NFL, Sunday, December 11, 2011, LP Field, Nashville, Tenn., TV: FOX
by Badger, Pro Football Handicapper,

Point Spread: NO -3.5/Ten +3.5
Over/Under Total: 48.5

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This is the week where we will finally get a great read on the Tennessee Titans and whether or not they are an AFC contender or a pretender, when they welcome the New Orleans Saints to LP Field in Nashville for a key NFC-AFC week 14 matchup Sunday on Fox.

The Titans took a huge step forward toward the contender role with a big, 23-17, victory over the Buffalo Bills on the road last weekend. The biggest contributor to the huge road win was franchise running back Chris Johnson, who ran for 153 yards and two touchdowns to spark the surging Titans toward their late AFC playoff push.

Tennessees second win in a row moved them to within two games of first-place Houston in the AFC South, and put them tied with the chase pack of five teams at 7-5 for the final AFC wild card spot. This week will be treated like a playoff game in Nashville, because with two winnable games (at Indy, Jacksonville) sandwiched between Sundays game and a final week 17 showdown with the Texans, the Saints game has become thee game for the Titans in order to keep hope alive.

But it will be a very tough task since the playoff-bound New Orleans Saints bring their four-game win streak and top-ranked offense to Nashville. The Saints beat up the Detroit Lions on Sunday night, 31-17, to notch number four and move to within a game from clinching the NFC South, a goal they can reach with a victory on the road against the Titans this Sunday.

Oddsmakers are listing the Saints as strong candidates for notching that NFC South division title, as they opened as 3.5-point favorites on the road when the initial point spread was put on the board late Sunday. Early wagering has been slow to start the week, and the point spread has only moved up to minus -4 at a few offshore sportsbooks so far, otherwise most books are still sitting at Saints by 3.5.

The over/under total opened at 48.5 and has yet to move in either direction at a large majority of sporstbooks, but the few that have changed their listed total have moved the half-point in both directions to 48 or up to 49.

I must admit, I am a bit surprised at the total opening below 50 since the Saints own the top-ranked offense in the NFL (448 ypg) and the 2nd-ranked scoring offense at 33 points a game (32.8). Quarterback Drew Brees has weapons galore at his disposal in New Orleans, with four-deep at wideout, the leagues top tight end and three different running backs that make the Saints offense nearly impossible to stop.

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The Titans offense has mimicked the teams increased production of late, scoring nearly 26 points a game (a full touchdown more than their season average) while winning three out of their last four to make a surprising late-season surge. What isnt much of a surprise is how the Titans are making their push on offense, since Johnson has finally shaken off the rust of a prolonged holdout and missed training camp and offseason with three 100-yard games and a dangerous 7.5 yards per carry average during the Titans run.

Both teams will be tested to stop these two teams on offense too.

On paper the Saints have a decent run defense (114 ypg 16th), and they have stood up well against running teams the past few weeks (TB, Atl.), but they havent faced a speed running back like Johnson at all this season. The Saints defense already was blitz-heavy on passing downs, so I expect them to bring safety Roman Harper up into the box on early downs as well to force the Titans to beat them with Matt Hasselbecks arm and a depleted receiving crew.

Plus, the Saints best defense in recent weeks has been predictability as in Brees and the offense have rolled to double-digit leads so quickly that teams have literally been forced to abandon the running game entirely.

Which brings us to the Titans defense and their ability to stop the Saints from running it up. Tennessee is a classic bend but dont break defense, giving up big yardage (355 ypg 18th) but very little scoring damage (19.1 ppg 6th) week to week. It should be noted however that passing teams have given the Titans defense the most trouble (Houston 41 points, Pitt 38 points, Carolina 30 points), and the Saints and Brees certainly qualify as a strong passing team.

The last time these two met on the field was back in 2007, when the Titans defense forced Brees into an uncharacteristic four interceptions in a 31-14 upset (4.5-point dogs) victory in the Superdome. Tennessee also won the previous game, in 2003, with a 27-12 victory at home behind the duo of Steve McNair and Eddie George. In fact, if you go back to 1996 the Titans have won four straight games against the Saints, and have covered the point spread in all but one of them (3-0-1 ATS).

One could also argue in favor of a wager on Tennessee by saying that the Saints are not the same dominate team on the road (3-8 ATS) as they are at home, especially as the road favorite (1-6 ATS).

Tennessee has also enjoyed the role of the home underdog (9-2 ATS), especially as big dogs (5-0 ATS as dog of 3.5 to 10).

The over is probably the best betting trend bet on the total, since its 5-2 in New Orleans last seven as a road favorite and 11-4-1 for the Titans as a home dog (in L16). The over is also 6-2 in Tennessees last eight games in December.

Badgers Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I expect Tennessee to play inspired ball on Sunday against the Saints, at home in front of an energized crowd. But I just dont think they have the weapons to hang with the Saints for four full quarters, even though the Saints are not as good on the road as they are on turf in the dome. A late score puts this one over in a backdoor style. Im taking the Saints minus the 3.5 points.

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