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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 6: Saints vs Patriots

New Orleans Saints vs New England Patriots: NO +3 (Bet365)

Market Watch

Last week Vegas had the Patriots -2.5 point favorites in this matchup. When it re-opened on Sunday night, not much had changed. If you like the Patriots at -2.5, you can grab them for a bit extra juice. Conversely, if you like the Saints, you can grab +3 for some extra juice.

If you don't have that option, I'd still consider New Orleans because I have this game graded at a 'pick em' - even with the potential return of Gronk. He will single-handedly transform this offense, but it's not going to happen right away (at least I hope).  For now, I'm going to grab the points and ride the team already in full swing.

71% of bets are on the Saints.

When the Saints have the ball

Bill Belichick is notoriously known for taking away your best offensive weapon. The question they must be asking themselves this week is who that player might be on the Saints?  With Sean Payton and Drew Brees orchestrating things, it's never quite clear who they are going to key on for a single game.

Will the Patriots try to compensate for the loss of Vince Wilfork up front? Without him to plug the inside gaps, it has a ripple effect on the rest of the defense. Rookie DT Joe Vellano was easily shoved around in the running game last week. Reinforcements aren't on the way either. Tommy Kelly has yet to practice this week.

The good news is that the Saints run game has been brutal all season. Will that change this week? New Orleans could certainly move the ball on the ground if they committed to it, so that bears watching.

The bigger issue is which playmaker will New England focus on in the passing game. Common sense would tell us that it's Jimmy Graham. Against Chicago, he caught all 10 passes sent his way for 135 yards, and he beat six different defenders in the process. What this does is open up the rest of the field for the likes of Colston and Sproles. One guy can beat you on the outside and one can beat you out of the backfield or over the middle.

The Patriots are pretty good on third down, and among the best defending their red zone though.  This will be a fun matchup to watch, but ultimately the Saints are too dynamic to be stopped for four quarters.

When the Patriots have the ball

Gronk is officially listed as "day-to-day", but the word is that he's finally ready to return to action. Going forward, I'll be looking to make plays on New England because Gronk is going to completely reshape how this offense operates.

Guys like Welker and Hernandez were replaceable through a combination of players, but nobody can make up for the loss of Gronk. Only a few tight ends in the league can match his game-breaking receiving ability, but none of them come close to his abilities as a blocker. The issue is how much can he offer coming off this much missed time?  We won't know until we see him in action, but he's likely going to need a game or two to return to form, if not longer.

What we have left is an average offense.  With banged up running backs, they rank in the bottom third in run efficiency. Their passing game and third down percentage has been in the middle of the pack. Once they get inside the 20, they settle for field goals.

I'm not sure how much better they'll be against this improve Saints defense. New Orleans now have quality pass rushers up front with Jordan and Galette, and their overall tackling is light years better than last year. They rank in the top 10 against the pass, and they've been able to get off the field on third down.

They'll need to figure out what to do if Gronk is able to play a full game, but they should be able to limit this offense enough to give Brees and company the chance to win this outright.

Bottom Line

How impressive had the turnaround been for the Saints defense?  We all knew they would improve this year, but who thought it would happen this fast and that they'd be this good?  They have two legit pass rushers that can get after Brady and their secondary has made big strides. At the moment, Brady's passing game is average, their run game is banged up, and they are brutal in the red zone.

The Saints offense is equally inept in the red zone, and they can't run the ball either, but the passing game is off the charts. That's not to say they are going to light up the Patriots defense, because much like the Saints defense, this unit is also much improved this season.  That said, Brees, Payton, Graham, Sproles, and Colston have their mojo back. I'll roll with New Orleans with +3 points they shouldn't be getting.

NFL Pick: NO +3.
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