49ers vs. Saints Odds & Picks: Back This Underdog To Cover Sunday
Daniel Shirey/Getty Images. Pictured: Nick Mullens, Kyle Shanahan
49ers vs. Saints Odds
What a difference a year makes.
Last season, the 49ers and Saints played in perhaps the most exciting game of 2019: A 48-46 thriller at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome that saw the 49ers win on a Robbie Gould field goal.
Fast-forward a year later, the 49ers are a shell of their former selves. They’ve been decimated by injuries on both sides of the ball and come into this game reeling from back-to-back double-digit losses to the Seahawks and Packers.
The Saints, on the other hand, are riding high after a 38-3 destruction of Tom Brady and the Buccaneers. Now New Orleans sits at 6-2 with sole possession of the lead in the NFC South.
With a depleted 49ers team coming into the Superdome on Sunday, oddsmakers installed the Saints as 9.5-point favorites in a game that should shape up to be an easy victory for the home team…
…or will it?
After a dominant performance last week, let’s find out if the Saints can avoid the dreaded let-down spot.
San Francisco 49ers
No team has had to adopt the “next man up” philosophy quite like the 49ers, who will be missing nearly all of the players who fueled that 48-46 victory over the Saints in the Superdome last December. With the absence of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, All Pro tight end George Kittle, running backs Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman and Jeff Wilson as well as wide receiver Deebo Samuel, the 49ers will have to find other ways of generating offense.
Fortunately, if there’s any coach in the NFL who can find a way to maximize the strengths of a depleted offensive unit, it’s Kyle Shanahan.
Once again, Nick Mullens will get the start for the 49ers and we should see an uptick in his performance with the return of left Trent Williams and wide receivers Brandon Aiyuk and Kendrick Bourne. The return of Williams is especially noteworthy as he’s Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded tackle (89.8) and is elite at both pass and run blocking.
Despite all the injuries, the cupboard isn’t completely bare.
Last week against the Packers, return specialist Richie James emerged as a dangerous receiving threat, with nine catches for 184 yards and a touchdown.
Running back Jerick McKinnon is another dual-threat out of the backfield as he’s rushed for 261 yards on 4.4 yards per carry with five touchdowns while also being the team’s fourth-leading receiver with 24 receptions for 173 yards and one touchdown.
The 49ers are still sixth in rushing efficiency and ninth in rushing expected points added, however they’re struggled to run the ball over the past two weeks, rushing for only 107 yards on 39 carries while averaging 137 yards per game before that. The return of Williams should play a major factor, however the 49ers are facing a Saints defense that’s fifth in rushing efficiency.
Still, there are some positives for the 49ers offense as the Saints are 21st in third-down conversion percentage and dead last in red-zone defense, allowing touchdowns on 80% of opponent trips inside the 20-yard line.
Injuries to Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, Richard Sherman, K’Waun Williams and Kwon Alexander have hurt the defense. After back-to-back dominant performances from D.K. Metcalf (7 catches, 108 yards, 1 touchdown) and Davante Adams (10 receptions, 173 yards, 1 touchdown), the 49ers will likely find themselves drawing dead against Michael Thomas.
That said, it’ll be tough for Jason Verrett and Emmanuel Moseley to play as bad as Tampa’s secondary did last week.
If the 49ers are going to have a chance, linebacker Fred Warner will have to be their defensive MVP as he’ll likely be responsible for slowing down Alvin Kamara. According to Pro Football Focus, Warner “has allowed just a 60.5 passer rating when targeted, more than 40 points lower than the average linebacker.” He’s solidified himself as one of the NFL’s best linebackers, leading the team with 74 tackles while recording three interceptions, three QB hits and four tackles for loss.
New Orleans Saints
The declining arm strength of Drew Brees has been a concern all season.
He’s dead last in intended air yards at just 5.5 yards per pass, but it hasn’t mattered — Brees has proven that he’s still elite with his quick release, wisdom and accuracy proving he’s still one of the best NFL quarterbacks at the age of 41. Brees leads the league in completion percentage (74%) and is fourth in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, ESPN’s Total QBR (82.1) and quarterback rating (110.3) while throwing 17 touchdowns, 10th among quarterbacks.
Brees played close to perfect in last week’s win, completing 26-of-32 passes for 222 yards and four touchdowns against the Bucs’ elite defense.
The Saints’ offense hasn’t been explosive as they’re 25th in explosive play rate with only 8% of their plays going for 20 or more yards. Still, this is one of the NFL’s best offenses as they’re sixth in offensive efficiency and eighth in total success rate.
Kamara continues to be an all-purpose weapon for the Saints with 471 rushing yards and 60 receptions for 565 yards with eight total touchdowns. Tight end Jared Cook has emerged as a red-zone threat with 21 receptions for 279 yards and four touchdowns. And Taysom Hill has been the one player who has made it worthwhile to pull Brees off the field to play quarterback, run from the wildcat or even line up as receiver.
The return of Thomas makes this offense even more difficult to stop, and for good reason — they’ve emerged as one of the Super Bowl favorites heading into Week 10.
The Saints are coming off their best defensive performance of the season. They held the Buccaneers to only three points and 194 total yards of offense. It was total domination as they sacked Brady three times, limited the Bucs to an NFL-record five carries for only eight rushing yards, and held them to just 1-of-9 on third down.
Is the Saints defense trending upward or was this an anomaly?
Last week’s game marked the first in which the Saints have held an opponent to fewer than 23 points all season.
Despite ranking seventh in defensive efficiency, their defense has been their Achilles’ heel all season long: In Week 8, they blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead to Nick Foles and the Bears. In Week 5, Chargers rookie quarterback Justin Herbert came to the Superdome and threw for 264 yards and four touchdowns, even leading what could have been a game-winning drive had it not been for a missed 50-yard field goal at the end of regulation.
Nevertheless, whether the Saints defense can’t build on the momentum from their blowout win over the Bucs remains to be seen.
I’m a big proponent of fading teams coming off big victories in primetime — and I take that stance even further when a team has a blowout victory.
Per our Bet Labs data, teams that win by 35 or more points are only 41-55-5 (42.7%) against the spread, losing by a margin of -0.11. That means, if you were to blindly fade teams that win by 35 or more the following week, you would be 55-41-5 (57.3) with a Return Of Investment of +10.2%.
Why is that the case?
The public remembers what they saw last.
The 49ers are coming off a 17-point home loss to the Packers while the Saints are coming off a 35-point destruction of the Buccaneers — and after releasing a lookahead line of Saints -6.5, the spread now sits at -9.5 as of Saturday, a three-point jump.
Now do I believe the Saints deserve a bump up in power ratings after last week’s performance? Absolutely. Do I believe they’re 3.5 to 4 points better than the lookahead number? I don’t.
The Saints are the better football team and are trending upward, but this spread is an overreaction — my projections make this game closer to 7 than 10.
The Saints are just 3-5 against the spread, which tells us that they’ve been overvalued by the betting public for much of this season. Ironically one of their ATS wins came against the Bucs, a team that has been even more overvalued than the Saints. Another was against the Lions in a game in which the spread was bet down by sharp money due to cluster injuries in the Saints secondary.
It’s important to note that 10 is a key number in football, and games have landed on 10 roughly 5% of the time since 2015, while games land on nine roughly 1.5% of the time, so the difference between 10 and 9 is the difference between having an edge and not having one.
Thankfully, we can still grab +9.5 at some books as of Sunday afternoon, so be sure to shop real-time lines here.
PICK: 49ers +9.5