Comments Off on The Saints are riding high, but the Bengals could bring a letdown. Here’s why.

It’s now official. The New Orleans Saints are Super Bowl caliber after defeating the Los Angeles Rams 45-35 last Sunday. Those are the top two teams in NFC Power Ratings. New Orleans now controls its destiny to exploit a strong home field advantage through the NFC brackets.

Surprisingly, the Saints closed as a 2-point home underdog because high rollers in Las Vegas hit the Rams hard after our publication deadlines last week. You’ll notice below that New Orleans still has some concerns about stopping elite opposition. The bottom two categories offer a potential tie-breaker that we may see again.

New Orleans 45, LA Rams 35

Total Yards: Los Angeles 483, New Orleans 487

Yards-per-Play: Los Angeles 8.7, New Orleans 7.0

Drive Points: Los Angeles 32, New Orleans 28

Third Downs: Los Angeles 38%, New Orleans 58%

Red Zone TD Rate: Los Angeles 3/5, New Orleans 5/5

“Drive points” are those scored or allowed on drives of 60 yards or more. The Saints weren’t getting the best of the stat box until you get down to efficiency at moving the chains and finishing drives. Drew Brees found the end zone in all five red zone opportunities. The Rams could only do that three times in five.

While the Saints have defensive issues that will dog them the rest of the way, they’re still a serious championship threat because they move the ball so well … because they do so with a lower risk than most opponents … because Drew Brees will make you pay for turnovers … and because this offense has the skill sets and ingenuity to find the end zone when needed.

And none of that could matter if the Saints come out flat in Cincinnati this week!

New Orleans will likely close as a 4 to 5-point favorite against the Bengals Sunday (FOX, noon). It’s a classic NFL letdown spot. A road favorite is coming off a HUGE game, actually a few huge games (Baltimore, Minnesota, and the Rams in succession), and is now facing a non-conference opponent that may not get its juices flowing.

▪ Cincinnati has an effective offense that should be able to move the ball and score. And, it will be 100% rested after a bye week.

▪ New Orleans may lose its “sharpness” edges because sloppiness in the areas of turnovers and conversions often correlates with a drop in intensity.

If you’ve been cashing Saints tickets in recent weeks, handle this one with caution.

Weather isn’t supposed to be an issue, which should allow both quarterbacks to put points on the board. The market has anticipated that with a high Over/Under of 54. Saints’ road games are 1-3 to the Under this season despite landing on 80, 51, 47, and 50. Oddsmakers post high hurdles for Over bettors when New Orleans takes the field.

Other notes:

▪ That win over the Rams lowered the Saints return from around 11/4 (+375) to win the NFC to 5/2 (+250) according to a consensus of offshore sites. Los Angeles is still centered around +175 to represent the NFC in February. Here’s a quick summary as the marketplace hones in on those two conference powers.

Odds to Win NFC: Rams 7/4, Saints 5/2, Vikings 7/1, Panthers 10/1

Odds to win SB: Rams 7/2, Saints 11/2, Vikings 14/1, Panthers 20/1

Any other potential NFC threats are seen as distant contenders at the moment. If you’re wondering about the AFC powers. New England is 5/1 to win the Super Bowl, Kansas City 11/2. Remember that prices will vary at US sports books based on the betting tendencies of their local clientele.

We promised earlier this season to keep you abreast of team performances in VSiN’s “drive points” stat. Time for a quick update of the high’s and low’s entering Week 10.

Remember that these are points scored and allowed on drives of 60 yards or more, taking away all defensive or special teams TD’s, and any points scored on relatively “cheap” field position drives. This stat helps isolate which offenses can best drive the field for points, and which defenses are best at preventing opponents from doing so.

Best NFL Offenses: Kansas City 24.4, New Orleans 23.3, Pittsburgh 23.1, Tampa Bay 22.1, Atlanta 19.8, LA Rams 19.2.

Worst NFL Offenses: Buffalo 3.8, Arizona 8.1, Tennessee 8.4, Jacksonville 9.1, NY Jets 9.4, Dallas 10.4, Houston 10.9.

Best NFL Defenses: Tennessee 9.5, Jacksonville 10.1, Philadelphia 10.8, Buffalo 10.8, LA Chargers 11.0, Baltimore 11.6, Houston 11.8.

Worst NFL Defenses: Tampa Bay 23.5, New Orleans 23.3, Kansas City 22.1, Atlanta 20.6, Cincinnati 20.3, Oakland 20.0.

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