NFL Odds & Picks For Sunday Night Football: How To Bet the Saints vs. Buccaneers Total
Getty Images. Pictured: Drew Brees, Tom Brady
NFL Odds: Saints vs. Buccaneers
After some recent less-than-appetizing primetime matchups, we’re in for a good one this Sunday night between two of the top contenders in the NFC.
The Saints and Buccaneers, separated by only one game in the NFC South standings, have won a combined seven straight overall. A Bucs win would give them a 1.5-game cushion atop the division, while the Saints would leap into solo first place with a victory and the season series sweep in hand.
Barring major injuries, we should see both teams in the postseason, but this game will likely have major playoff seeding implications. It also could ultimately end up determining which teams gets the highly-coveted top seed in the NFC, which comes with the lone bye in the conference.
Let’s take a brief look at where each team stands coming into Week 9, then try to identify the potential betting value.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints have won four straight but haven’t necessarily done so in convincing fashion — their four victories came by a combined 15 points, including three straight wins by a field goal, two of which came in overtime.
Wins are wins, and the Saints had to make do without their best offensive weapon in Michael Thomas, who hasn’t played since the season-opening win over these Bucs. He’s officially listed as questionable, but is expected to suit up as of writing. Emmanuel Sanders also missed the past two contests, but should be ready to roll for Sunday night.
For the first time since the season opener, New Orleans should be at full strength on offense.
While New Orleans has been shorthanded at wideout, it’s been the Alvin Kamara show on the ground and out of the backfield in the short-passing game — Kamara has actually led the team in receiving yards in three of the past six games with at least 95 yards.
Kamara and Drew Brees have both benefited from one of the better offensive lines in the NFL. The Saints’ offensive line really has no glaring weakness, ranking seventh in both Adjusted Line Yards and Adjusted Sack Rate, per Football Outsiders.
The defense has been extremely stout against the run, led by a solid group of linebackers and an extremely deep and talented defensive line.
Overall, New Orleans ranks fourth against the run in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, holding teams to an impressive 3.6 yards per carry (third in the NFL).
The secondary hasn’t been bad, but it also hasn’t been a shout down unit, primarily as a result of Marshawn Lattimore’s struggles in 2020. The uber-talented corner, who remains very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, ranks 91st of 117 cornerbacks per Pro Football Focus. Still, this is a defense that easily projects as a top-10 unit in the league with top-five upside.
New Orleans also boasts a top-five special teams unit, per my ratings.
Wil Lutz has been rock solid at kicker and Deonte Harris is a dangerous return man — Harris and Pittsburgh’s Ray Ray McLoud are the only two players to average more than 16 yards per punt return so far this season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Since dropping their season opener in New Orleans, the Bucs have won six of seven games to get to 6-2 one season after starting 2-6. The one loss came by one-point against the Bears in a game the Bucs should have won — Tampa out-gained Chicago, 339-243, and averaged more than one additional yard in yards per play (5.3-4.1).
Unlike the Saints, the Bucs have — for the most part — won in convincing fashion with their six wins coming by an average margin of more than 15 points per game. Although, they did have to hold on for dear life last Monday night in New York for a two-point victory over the Giants. On a related note, the Saints will have an extra day of rest and preparation since Tampa will travel back from the Big Apple to prepare for this game on a short week.
Similar to New Orleans, Tampa has a future Hall of Fame quarterback over the age of 40 who has had to deal with his best receiver missing games due to injury. Chris Godwin, who has only played in four of Tampa’s eight games, is officially listed as questionable for Sunday. However, head coach Bruce Arians hinted that he expects the Pro Bowler to suit up.
Brady, who has certainly delivered so far in his first season in Arians’ aerial attack, may finally have his full stable of weapons in addition to the recently acquired Antonio Brown. When healthy, it’s now the scariest trio of receivers in the league by a wide margin.
The running game hasn’t been spectacular, but Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette have done enough on the ground to provide the offense with enough balance to keep opposing defenses honest.
Tampa’s offensive line has also played extremely well and remains one of the most underrated units on the team. They rank 11th in Adjusted Line Yards and No. 2 in Adjusted Sack Rate (thanks to Brady as well).
Donovan Smith has had some hiccups at left tackle but has played well overall. Rookie Tristan Wirfs has made a smooth transition to the NFL by sliding in at starting right tackle — his metrics are impressive, but he’ll have a tough task against Cameron Jordan on Sunday night. Wirfs did struggle a bit in two games against Khalil Mack and Jordan (understandably so).
The interior is also very stout. However, it’s worth noting that Tampa will not have the services of star guard Ali Marpet, who grades out as PFF’s fifth-best guard in 2020. His presence will be missed.
Since most of the star-power resides on the offensive side of the ball, the Bucs doesn’t get enough love in defense, but they arguably have the best unit in the NFL.
Todd Bowles has done a remarkable job with this group in his base 3-4 defense. It’s unfortunate that Vita Vea was lost for the season with an injury — he was one of the most dominant defensive lineman in the NFL. Acquiring Steve McLendon from the Jets will help fill Vea’s void, but there will undoubtedly be a drop-off.
That said, there’s an abundance of talent at all three levels for this extremely well-schooled unit. Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett provide the edge rush, while William Gholston and Ndamukong Suh pose plenty of problems along the defensive line. At the second level, Lavonte David might be the best linebacker in the NFL right now.
Tampa’s front seven really does it all, ranking first in Adjusted Line Yards and third in Adjusted Sack Rate.
We also can’t talk about Tampa’s defense without mentioning one of the best up-and-coming outside corner duos in the league: Jamel Dean and Carlton Davis. PFF has them ranked third and 12th out of 117 CBs, respectively. Plus, Antoine Winfield Jr. has had no issues making the transition to the NFL — the starting safety is a legit contender for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
You simply can’t run against the Bucs, who have allowed a league-low 3.2 yards per rush. That’s the exact same average they allowed last season when they led the league. And from a DVOA perspective, Tampa ranks No. 1 against the pass and No. 1 overall.
Bowles’ aggressive defense also doesn’t get burned by the big play — they rank first in defending rush explosiveness and seventh against pass explosiveness. This defense is loaded.
I have Tampa’s special teams rated at about league average. I will say the late signing of Ryan Succop has really paid dividends. The veteran kicker remains almost automatic inside of 50 yards.
Saints vs. Buccaneers Pick
From a power ratings perspective, I have the Bucs and Saints as the top two teams in the NFC — I do have the Bucs rated higher, but only make them around 3-point favorites after accounting for home-field advantage, their short week, on-field matchups and injuries. Therefore, I played the Saints at +5 and like them at +4.5 or greater (shop real-time lines here).
My favorite play of this game, though, is on the total.
I bet under 52 earlier in the week and like it at anything over 50. Yes, I’m aware that all seven Saints games have gone over the total this season, but I’m betting on that streak ending Sunday night for a variety of reasons.
There is a weather component that should have some impact on the passing game (and potentially field goals). The forecast is calling for 20 mph winds, which could have a large impact on two 40-plus-year-old arms.
Plus, neither offense has really been that explosive, so you can expect some long drives. (Interestingly, Brady and Brees are two of only three quarterbacks in NFL history to finish a season with a QB Rating higher than 100 after the age of 40. Brett Favre is the other.)
The decline in Brees’ arm strength has been pretty obvious to the naked eye this season and he’s now dealing with a shoulder injury. Even if Thomas returns as expected, this offense will still feature Kamara and short passes. Well, that plays right into the strength of Tampa’s defense, which is elite defending the run (No. 1) and short passes (No. 2).
Additionally, neither team is a speed racer — when it comes to situational-neutral pace, the Bucs rank in the middle of the pack while the Saints sit in the bottom-five of the league.
If you’re into trends, the second meeting between division teams in windy conditions has historically been a cash cow. I just like the match up between top-five run defenses with downfield passing potentially limited by the weather — even if both Godwin and Thomas both play.
I’m also expecting some positive regression to work in New Orleans’ favor when it comes to penalty yards and red-zone defense. The Saints are dead-last in penalty yard differential and rank 32nd in red-zone defense. They’ve allowed a league-high 83.33% red-zone touchdown percentage, which should come crashing down very shortly, potentially starting against a Bucs offense that will likely not be able to sustain their gaudy red-zone touchdown scoring percentage.
I just hope Brees stays healthy throughout the game so we don’t see Jameis Winston against his old team. While that would be extremely entertaining, it would not be ideal for the under.
PICK: Under 51