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Bay Buccaneers vs. New Orleans Saints Pick.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-3 SU, 3-4 ATS) vs. New Orleans Saints (5-3 SU, 4-4 ATS), 1:00 p.m. EST, Week 9 NFL, Sunday, November 6, 2011, Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans, La., TV: FOX
by Badger, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: TB +8/NO -8
Over/Under Total: 51
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If the New Orleans Saints want to put any distance between themselves and the rest of the chase pack in the NFC South they will have a prime opportunity this weekend when they host the rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a crucial divisional battle in the Superdome on Sunday.
The Saints, who hold a one game lead over the Bucs and the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC South standings, have had a few chances to create some separation in the division only to stub their toe each time. One of those missed opportunities came a few weeks ago when they failed to beat these same Buccaneers on the road in Tampa, losing 26-20 when quarterback Drew Brees threw a game-killing interception in the Tampa end zone in the closing minutes with a chance to win the game.
But perhaps the bigger question for the Saints and their followers is which New Orleans team will show up on Sunday? The one that looked invincible in their 62-point demolishing of the Indianapolis Colts two weeks ago, or the one that wet the bed last week in losing to the previously winless St. Louis Rams, 31-21.
The Saints were thoroughly outplayed by the Rams last week, trailing 17-0 at half and 31-14 with just a few minutes to go as Brees and the offense desperately tried to rally the troops. Brees was held to just 269 yards and a TD in the game, and the defense was repeatedly gouged by Stephen Jackson and the Rams running game to the tune of 183 yards rushing in the loss.
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The Buccaneers will enter the Sundays showdown will fresh legs after spending last weekend on their couches with their bye week. Their previous outing was a disaster though, as they lost to the Chicago Bears across the big pond in London by a 24-18 score.
With starting running back LaGarrette Blount out injured and his backup Earnest Graham also sidelined after just two carries, Tampa was forced to throw the ball too often against the Bears and it proved to be their demise. Quarterback Josh Freeman threw four of his 52 pass attempts to the Bears defense, and the Bucs were not able to overcome the turnovers despite a late fourth quarter rally.
Now the Bucs will have to circle the wagons and play another strong game against the rival Saints on the road in the Superdome, something they have done considerably well over the past four seasons (3-1 SU at New Orleans since 2007).
With as well as the Buccaneers have played in the Superdome, and against the Saints in general over the past few years, I must say I was shocked to see the oddsmakers in Las Vegas set the opening point spread for this game with the Saints as rather large 9-point favorites. It turns out most of the sharp bettors were shocked as well, since so much of the early money has come in on the Bucs that most sportsbooks have dropped the number to minus -8 or minus -7.5-points within the first few hours it was put on the board.
The over/under total opened at 51 and it appears to be a little more accurate number by the oddsmakers, since it has had little to no line movement in the few days since it was released. There are a few offshore sportsbooks that have dropped it a hook to 50.5, but there are still plenty of places with 51 if you look.
On paper this game looks like a lopsided affair on offense.
Brees and the Saints are ranked second in the NFL in total offense (444.1 ypg) and scoring offense (32.5 ppg) , and their 326.8 passing yards per game is tops in the league after eight weeks of play. Even their three-headed monster at running back (Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles) is on the fringe of the top ten running the ball (117.4 ypg 11th), so the Saints can send wave after wave of offense at defenders making them one of the hardest units to stop.
Its the Saints defense that hasnt answered the call each week. With a lack of depth and a strong front seven up front, the Saints defense has been eaten up by the run (124.1 ypg 24th) and their blitz-happy scheme under coordinator Gregg Williams has given up way too many big plays resulting in easy scores (23.6 ppg 22nd).
The question the Buccaneers offense must answer this Sunday is whether or not they will be able to take advantage of the Saints weaknesses on defense. Blount and his balky knee is listed as probable, and Bucs center Jeff Faine is also listed as probable, so the Tampa running game (100.1 ypg 23rd) should be close to full strength. They will need to get things going early and take the Saints blitzing game out of the equation in order to keep Freeman comfortable in the pocket, because having his throw it 50 times a game is not the Bucs recipe for success.
Tampas offense will also have to be their best defense against the Saints on Sunday because with the 29th-ranked unit allowing nearly 400 yards a game (391.1 ypg), it doesnt appear they will have the ability to stop Brees and the Saints by themselves. But despite the Bucs really poor statistical numbers on defense this season, they do seem to play the Saints tough every time out, so maybe there is something that they know that the rest of us cant see when handicapping this matchup.
Ive already mentioned the success the Bucs have had against the Saints several times, but for the record they are 6-4 SU versus them since the 2006 season. Last year they beat them 23-13 in the Superdome, although that game was played on January 2nd as the last game of the regular season, so its debatable if the playoff-bound Saints gave it their all against the already eliminated Bucs in that game.
As far as bettors are concerned, the head-to-head series is split 5-5 ATS over the same 10 game stretch since 06, but the Bucs are 3-1 ATS in the last four meetings overall and 7-1 ATS in the Superdome in their last eight visits to the Big Easy.
The under also has some serious betting trends in its favor. The under is 6-0 in the last six head-to-head meetings, 6-1 in the Saints last seven versus an NFC South rival and 10-3 in the Bucs last 13 versus the NFC South.
Badgers Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Im still having a hard time wrapping my brain around the 9-point spread, its smells fishy to me. Are the boys in Vegas really having that hard of a time finding people to wager on the Bucs in this game? I guess Ill be their Huckleberry, trap or not. Im taking the Buccaneers plus the points in this game.
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