Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. New Orleans Saints – Free Week 1 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-0) +3.5, 43 O/U at New Orleans Saints (0-0)
-3.5, 43 O/U, Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans, La., 1 PM Eastern,
Sunday

by Badger of Predictem.com

Now that Hurricane Gustav has blown through Louisiana without much
damage to the Superdome, it looks like it will be business as usual
for the NFL and the New Orleans Saints as they get set to host the
Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their 2008 season opener Sunday.

The Saints escaped New Orleans and went to Indianapolis for a few
days to continue preparing for the game versus their NFC South
rivals. If the Saints are going to overtake the Buccaneers at the top
of the NFC South, which many people think they will, they will have
to improve upon last years 7-9 record (6-10 ATS) and take care of
business right out of the gate in week one.

The Bucs meanwhile feel that the NFC South is theirs to lose in 2008. With basically the same team back from last years 9-7 squad (9-7
ATS), it may be harder for them to stay at the top because the rest
of the division (minus the Atlanta Falcons) seems to have closed the
talent gap in the offseason.

The oddsmaker agrees with most of the experts that the Saints have improved more than the Bucs, as they opened the game with the home
Saints as the standard 3-point favorites. That number has gone up
slightly to 3.5-points at most sportsbooks with early action. The
over/under total opened at 43 and is currently holding steady, give
of take a half point, while the moneyline numbers show the Saints as
-162 favorites with the Buccaneers listed as +152 underdogs.

When comparing the two offenses, one would have to admit that Saints
look like the better team on paper.

Quarterback Drew Brees continues to be one of the best signal callers in the NFL, having a down year last season with only 4,423 yards
and 28 touchdowns. The problem for Brees and the Saints was a lack of
a running game. Deuce McCallister blew up his knee early in the year
and Reggie Bush (581 yds., 4 TD) wilted under the extra workload. The
Saints rushed for just 3.74 yards per rush in 07, which put them
29th in the league and spelled doom for the team late in the season.

If the Saints can get the running game going again Brees will likely
have another monster year because they added tight end Jeremy Shockey
to a receiving core that already boasted Marques Colston (1,202 yds.,
11 TD) and David Patten (792 yds., 3 TD). And dont forget that Bush
is actually a better receiver in space than he is a runner out of the
backfield.

Tampa Bays offense returns the steady Jeff Garcia at quarterback,
but his numbers (2,440 yds., 13 TD) arent going to wow anybody. What
he does best is protect the football and manage the game, which is
all that head coach Jon Gruden asks of him.
Running back Earnest Graham came out of no where to run for 10
touchdowns in 07, but the rest of the Bucs skill position players
are either old (Joey Galloway 1,014 yds., 6 TD) or just role-type
players (Ike Hiiliard). Although second-round pick Dexter Jackson is
the speed burner this team has been lacking for years.

Defensively these two teams are complete opposites. Tampa Bay
features one of the leagues best units, while the Saints showcases
one the leagues worst, especially in the secondary.

Tampas defense ended 07 3rd in points allowed (16.9), 2nd in total
yards allowed (278.4) and 1st overall in yards per play (4.56). The
secondary added a solid corner for their cover-two scheme by drafting
Aqib Talib out of Kansas in the first-round, so expect more of the
same from the Bucs on defense this season.

The Saints meanwhile couldnt stop anyone last year, which is the
main reason why the faded at the end of the season when they were
still in the playoff picture. The unit ended 29th in the league in
yards allowed (348.1) and points allowed (24.2), and I dont care
what level you play at but that is not a recipe for success. The good
news is they did bring in some talent on that side of the ball in
free agency, going out and getting linebacker Jonathan Vilma,
defensive end Bobby McCray and d-backs Aaron Glenn and Randall Gay.
But if the preseason is any indication, the Saints look like they
have yet to really gel together as a unit.

Last year Tampa won both contests versus the Saints, covering the number in both games including a 27-23 victory in the Superdome last
December. Both games last year also went over the total, making it
five straight games that the over has cashed in at the window.

There are a number of interesting betting trends to note as well.

The road team is 8-2 ATS in their last 10 head-to-head meetings, and
the underdog has thrived in this rivalry as the dog is 9-3 ATS in the
last 12 head-to-head get togethers.

Surprisingly, the Saints dont enjoy home cooking as much as you
would think, as they are a measly 17-39 ATS at home versus division
opponents dating back to the 1992 season. Last year they were just
2-6 ATS at home.

Tampas defense seems to get into midseason form quickly too, as the
under is 26-5 in the first two weeks of the season dating back to the
92 season as well.

Badgers Pick: While I do think the Saints have the better offense,
its also equally clear that Tampa has a strong enough defense to
stop them. Not only do the numbers tell the story of the Saints
ineptitude at home versus the spread, but add into the mix that they
spent most of last week worrying about another hurricane ripping down
their homes and neighborhoods and what you get is a live dog here.
Take Tampa plus the 3.5 points.