N.O. Saints 4-0 ATS, Will Trend Continue?
T.O. Whenham of Doc's Sports Picks
If you asked most bettors before the season which team would be their best friend through the first four weeks, few would have picked New Orleans. Yet no team has performed better from a gambling perspective than the Saints. The team is 3-1 so far, and they are 4-0 ATS. It's been pretty easy to get behind the Saints this year, especially with the emotion and excitement of their Monday night post-Katrina homecoming.
The slow start of the Panthers and the terrible reality of the Bucs, coupled with the Saints' big win over the Falcons, means that New Orleans is perched on top of their division. It seems hard to believe that they can hold on to that top spot, but then it would be hard to believe that they would be where they are if there wasn't a chance. So far you have been able to make good money just by closing your eyes and blindly picking the Saints, but that will change. Here's a look at the prospects of the Saints going forward to help you with your picks:
Schedule - The Saints start is a little deceptive. Their first two wins were against Cleveland and Green Bay, probably the two weakest teams on the schedule, and they didn't exactly blow either of them away. That's a great way to build some confidence, but it only gets worse from here. They really only have three soft games left - two against Tampa Bay and a home match-up with San Francisco. They have to travel to Pittsburgh, Dallas, Atlanta and the Giants, and they host Baltimore, Cincinnati, Washington and the Panthers to close the season. Those games are all way harder than the first two were.
Passing game - Drew Brees has earned his money so far. He's completed almost 66 percent of his passes and has a solid ratio of four touchdowns to two picks. Joe Horn has been very good as expected, rookie Marques Colston has become a star with 86 yards per game and three touchdowns, and Reggie Bush has more catches than anyone. The passing game is working fine, in other words. That is especially significant because it's a new QB getting used to a new system and rookie receivers, so it's only going to get better. Brees has been more efficient in each game he has played and he hasn't thrown an interception since the first half of week two.
Defense - The Saints defense is as good now as it has been for a long time, and that wasn't necessarily expected. New coach Sean Payton is an offensive guy, but he brought Dallas linebackers coach Gary Gibbs with him to handle the defense. The defense is 12th in yards allowed, and 6th in rushing yards. Most impressive was the way that they completely shut down the potent Atlanta rushing attack. Of concern is that they have allowed 20.5 points per game, and that includes a field goal against Atlanta. The defense is much improved, but it still has a long way to go. Free agent linebacker Scott Fujita, who they grabbed from Dallas, has been very good, though he made a hit on Steve Smith that could have got him suspended. He'll have to use his head, because the team needs him on the field.
Reggie Bush - You can't talk about the Saints without talking about Bush. He's the story. So far he has been solid, and he's shown flashes of what he is going to be able to do, but he hasn't emerged as a true superstar yet. He's made some freshman mistakes, like his costly fumble against Carolina. He's only rushed for a 3.3 yard average on 45 carries and has just an 18-yard scamper as his career long, but his receiving has been much better - 23 catches for 187 yards with two plays for more than 20 yards. It will take some continued adjustment for Bush to really take off, but you have to be optimistic about the Saints because you know he is going to get much better.
Running game - A team with two backs as talented as Bush and Deuce McAllister needs to be running better than they are. They are 17th in the league with just 99 yards per game. McAllister has three rushing scores and Bush has none. In the loss against Carolina the running game was particularly absent - they covered just 63 yards in 23 carries. That's a weak average, but you have to wonder why the two backs are being so underused in the offense. The running game obviously has the tools to be among the best in the league, but it is far from being there so far.
The Verdict - The Saints have a pretty good chance of beating Tampa Bay this week (they're 6.5 point favorites), because any team taking the field against the Bucs is going to have a pretty good chance of winning this year. After that, however, it could get a bit scary. Brees will help, but this team has so many aspects - Bush, the defense, the running game - that they have more potential than the level they are currently performing at. The Saints are going to continue to improve and they could be very good next year, but it is hard to imagine how this team ends up much better than 8-8 given who they have to play. The 4-0 ATS start certainly will not continue.