Tuesday, September 10, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 2: Saints vs Buccaneers

New Orleans Saints vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers: NO -3 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

The look-ahead line from Vegas for this game was Saints -2.5.  The extra half-point bump wasn't from anything we saw from the Bucs on Sunday. It had everything to do with what the Saints pulled off against the Falcons. Yet, from where I'm sitting I don't think this was enough of an adjustment. I'll be surprised if this doesn't move off the key number of 3.

A whopping 90% of bets are fading the Bucs.

When the Saints have the ball

The Saints offense wasn't firing on all cylinders in their home opener, but they definitely had their swag back. That's what happens when you reunite Sean Payton and Drew Brees.

The plan of attack against the Bucs will once again center around the big three, Sproles, Colston, and Graham. These guys give Brees/Payton a multitude of options.

Most defenses would love to put a cornerback on Graham, but the Saints commit to the ground game so it discourages that kind of coverage. Sproles is a matchup nightmare out of the backfield, and that was on display in Week 1 with 88 receiving yards, four first downs, and three big gains.

The Bucs are stout against the run, but the combination of Sproles, Thomas, and Ingram will continue to pound the rock to keep defenses honest. Four time All-Pro Jahri Evans needs to have a better game though. He was dismal against the Falcons.

Defensively, I actually like what Tampa Bay has going on. The addition of Revis makes this unit well-balanced in both phases, and they'll be a really good test for the Saints. Lavonte David might have made a game-changing mistake, but this guy is a star in the making. He was the biggest factor in turning around this run defense and he plays with a great combination of speed and aggressiveness.

This will be a fun game of X's and O's on Sunday, but I have full trust in Sean Payton to find ways to scheme favorable matchups. Everybody is at full health, so the playbook is wide open.

When the Buccaneers have the ball

This is where Tampa Bay has huge, huge issues. Let's start with the obvious problem. Josh Freeman is just bad. I should be able to just leave it at that, but let's take a closer look. Beyond Williams and Jackson, he only completed four passes for four yards to other receivers/backs. He completed less than 50% of his passes overall, and only had three completions in 12 attempts beyond 10 yards.  He also shows obvious discomfort when he senses pressure. This is not a hard scheme to run, but he consistently displays trouble with his reads.

On the other side of scrimmage could be one of the bigger stories of 2013: Cameron Jordan. One of the key questions about this defense is where the pressure would come from. Yet, Jordan has been in beast mode since camp started this year. In Week 1 he had eight QB hurries. The single biggest boost to a defense is the addition of a premiere pass rusher, and his play could have a ripple effect throughout the roster.

The linebackers were (are) also a big question, but Junior Galette and Payrs Haralson had a good start. They each had a sack to go along with some QB hurries. Rob Ryan also brought heat from the secondary as Roman Harper and Kenny Vaccaro combined for 10 rushes.

For the most part though, the Saints defense relied upon their front four and kept most guys in coverage. It was successful.

Bottom Line

Drew Brees and the Saints offense showed a lot of moxy in Week 1. With a full lineup of weapons and Sean Payton back at the helm, the Saints are in a position to roll. The Bucs improved their secondary with Revis and Goldson, so I don't expect this to be a walk in the park, but you can't shut down an offense like this for four quarters.

I'm not going to get too carried away with the defensive performance from the Saints in Week 1, but they don't have to make huge strides to make New Orleans a serious threat. If they can get into the 15-20 range, this team is going to be scary. With a solid performance under their belt, they'll square off against Josh Freeman with confidence.

And at the end of the day, that really is the problem for Tampa Bay. The clock is ticking on the Freeman era, and if the Bucs fall behind by a couple of scores, it could get messy.

NFL Pick: NO -3.