Dusty’s 2018 NFL picks record: 5-3
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET (Fox)
Free NFL Pick: Saints ATS
Best Line Offered: BetOnline
Some people will argue that losing is never a good thing; others believe a loss can be beneficial. If you subscribe to the latter theory, you should be all over the New Orleans Saints in Sunday’s game against the Buccaneers in Tampa.
In Weeks 2-12 of the NFL season, all the Saints did was win 10 consecutive games and establish themselves as a Super Bowl favorite. Then came Week 13 — a Thursday night date at Dallas — and the Saints looked nothing like a powerhouse. New Orleans was held to 176 total yards (less than half their norm) in a 13-10 setback.
Losing to Dallas should help the Saints refocus and take a deep breath after being on such a high for so long. There’s also the little fact that New Orleans’ only other loss this season came in Week 1 to — gulp! — the Bucs, who went into the Big Easy as +10 road underdogs and left with a shocking 48-40 win. Sunday’s NFC South rematch opened with Tampa Bay +10 again on the NFL odds board, but that number quickly dropped to +8 at most sportsbooks.
Pop quiz: What team ranks No. 1 in total offense? If you said the Saints, you wouldn’t be alone but you’d be wrong. The Buccaneers top the league (442.7 yards per game), with the Saints sixth (396.6 ypg). More believable is the fact New Orleans is tied for second in scoring (34.9 points per game), while Tampa Bay is 10th (26.5 ppg).
Don’t look now but the Bucs are almost no longer terrible, with victories over San Francisco and Carolina the last two weeks. Jameis Winston was turnover-free in the two wins and tossed two touchdown passes in each. if Winston is flinging it, there’s a good chance Mike Evans (1,121 yards, five TDs) is catching it. Evans had 147 receiving yards and a TD in Week 1, when Ryan Fitzpatrick was at QB because Winston was suspended.
Drew Brees burned the Bucs in the opener, completing 37 of 45 passes for 439 yards and three touchdowns. Michael Thomas had 16 catches for 180 yards and a TD, setting the tone for this season in which he has caught 91 of the 105 passes thrown to him for 1,120 yards and eight TDs. New Orleans’ offense is balanced, with Alvin Kamara rushing for 742 yards and 11 touchdowns.
More bullish factors to ponder:
- Saints are 9-1 ATS in their last 10 games overall.
- Saints are 7-1 ATS in their last eight vs. NFC.
- Buccaneers are 4-0 ATS in their last four games in December.
- Buccaneers are 5-2 ATS in their last seven vs. NFC South.
Brees passed for only 127 yards against Dallas’ fifth-ranked defense, similar to the 120 yards he produced against Minnesota’s sixth-rated unit in Week 8. This week, however, the NFL’s all-time passing yardage leader is facing the 27th-ranked defense. Mismatch? You think?
On the other side of the ball, Tampa Bay is one of seven teams averaging less than 100 yards rushing per game — not as significant a stat as in the past but indicative of the Bucs being one-dimensional on offense. Peyton Barber (635 yards, four TDs) is the team’s only running back with at least 100 yards rushing.
Neither team’s defense is known for takeaways. The Saints have 10 interceptions (19th-best in the NFL) and the Bucs have seven (tied for 24th). At least New Orleans has a respectable nine fumble recoveries (tied for sixth), while Tampa Bay has only five (tied for 20th).
More bearish factors to ponder:
- Saints are 2-5 ATS in their last seven games following a straight-up loss.
- Buccaneers are 7-18-1 ATS in their last 26 home games vs. a team with a winning road record.
- Buccaneers are 2-6 ATS in their last eight games on grass.
The Saints have had three extra days to rest and prepare for this rematch. Don’t expect another 400-yard performance from Brees, but he won’t need it. The Bucs should be proud of their wins the last two weeks, but consider the opposition: the 49ers, who have been bad all season, and the Panthers, who have lost their last four. Prior to those games, the Bucs had lost seven of eight. New Orleans already lost SU and ATS to Tampa Bay as huge chalk; it can’t happen again. In your NFL picks, lay the points and back the Saints.