NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (5-0) at NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (4-1)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: New England -1.5 & 51.5
Opening Line & Total: -2 & 50
The unbeaten Saints seek a sixth straight win with a visit to New England on Sunday.
New Orleans is once again led by QB Drew Brees (344 pass YPG, 12 TD, 4 INT), but its defense continues to surprise with 14.6 PPG allowed (4th in NFL) and a league-low 25:22 time of possession. The Patriots once again hope to get TE Rob Gronkowski back on the field to help a sputtering offense ranked last in the NFL in goal-to-go efficiency (22%) and second-to-last in red zone efficiency (35%). Top RB Stevan Ridley, who missed last week’s game with a thigh injury, is also expected to return. Patriots QB Tom Brady failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time in 53 games in Sunday’s 13-6 loss, falling two games short of Brees’ NFL record. These teams have split their six meetings since 1992, but the Saints are 5-1 ATS in these matchups, including 3-1 ATS in Foxboro. Although Sean Payton is 25-14 ATS (64%) when facing a winning team as the Saints head coach, since taking the job in New England, Bill Belichick is 27-14 ATS (66%) versus teams that allow 17 PPG or less on the season.
Saints QB Drew Brees has completely dismantled the Patriots in his career, completing 47-of-65 passes (72%) for 723 yards (11.1 YPA), 8 TD and 0 INT during a perfect 3-0 record against them. He also enters this game coming off two mistake-free weeks, completing 59-of-74 throws (80%) for 701 yards (9.5 YPA), 6 TD and 0 INT. Brees is the biggest reason why his offense ranks second in the NFL in time of possession (34:37), fourth in total yards (405 YPG), and seventh in third-down conversions (44%). His top target continues to be TE Jimmy Graham, who has already gained 593 yards and 6 TD this season. Brees also likes to use his running backs in the passing game, as RBs Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles each have 30 targets that have led to a combined 474 yards and 3 TD through the air. This has helped make up for a horrible ground game that is averaging 3.1 yards per carry (4th-worst in NFL) and 77.8 rushing YPG (tied for 6th-worst in league). The Saints have committed just two turnovers over the past three games, and takeaways are what the Patriots defense thrives on with 10 already this year. Speaking of turnovers, the New Orleans defense has been pretty adept at making plays with multiple takeaways in four of its five games, which has certainly helped the unit post such low numbers in points allowed and time of possession. The Saints’ pass rush has also improved greatly this season with 15 sacks, including 11 over the past three games. The injury bug has not been kind to the New Orleans defense this year with seven defenders on IR, and three others questionable for Sunday’s game, S Roman Harper (knee) and DTs Tyrunn Walker (knee) and Tom Johnson (hamstring).
Tom Brady had a dreadful afternoon in Cincinnati last week, completing just 18-of-38 passes for 197 yards (5.2 YPA), 0 TD and 1 INT, while being sacked four times. However, Brady was hurt badly by four drops from his receivers, including one in the end zone by WR Julian Edelman in the game’s final minute. The probable returns of both TE Rob Gronkowski (29 TD in 27 games since 2011) and RB Stevan Ridley gives Brady more weapons to utilize. Top WR Danny Amendola is still not 100 percent healed from his Week 1 groin injury, but he and Edelman will likely be Brady’s top targets again on Sunday. For the Patriots offense to improve its paltry 19.0 PPG (24th in NFL), the rushing attack will likely see plenty of action. Over the past three weeks, New England has rushed for a solid 370 yards on 4.5 YPC, but for the season, the ground game has more lost fumbles (three) than rushing touchdowns (one). The Patriots defense has played exceptionally well this season with 14.0 PPG allowed (2nd in NFL) and 5.1 yards per play allowed (11th in league), but they have not seen a quarterback in the same class as Drew Brees. Falcons QB Matt Ryan is the only opposing signal caller that can be considered above average (EJ Manuel, Geno Smith, Josh Freeman and Andy Dalton being the other four opponents), and Ryan burned the Pats for 421 passing yards and two touchdowns two weeks ago. New England has done a nice job with its pass rush this season though, tallying 13 sacks over the past four games, and will need to get in Drew Brees’ face to have any chance of stopping the Saints through the air.
GREEN BAY PACKERS (2-2) at BALTIMORE RAVENS (3-2)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Green Bay -3 & 48.5
Opening Line & Total: Packers -3.5 & 48.5
The Packers seek their first win streak of the season when they visit the Ravens on Sunday.
While Green Bay is 0-2 (SU and ATS) on the road, allowing 34 points in both defeats, Baltimore is 2-0 (SU and ATS) at home, winning those games by a combined score of 44 to 15. However, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has a stellar 333 passing YPG, 9 TD and 3 INT this year, while Ravens QB Joe Flacco has 272 passing YPG, 5 TD and 8 INT. The good news for Flacco is that he will not have to worry about Green Bay pass-rushing star OLB Clay Matthews, who is out with a broken thumb. The Packers have run the ball extremely well in their past two games (362 yards, 5.7 YPC), but Baltimore has given up just 3.4 YPC this season (5th in NFL). Green Bay has thrived as a favorite under Mike McCarthy, going 51-33 (61%), but the Ravens are 11-2 ATS (85%) at home off an upset win as a road underdog since 1992. These teams have met four times since 1998 with the home team prevailing in each contest by at least eight points. When these clubs last met in Baltimore in 2005, the Ravens rolled to a 48-3 victory.
The Packers’ offense has once again been outstanding, gaining 6.7 yards per play (2nd in NFL), and placing third in the league in both points (29.5 PPG) and total yards (453.3 YPG). A great run/pass balance has achieved this success, as the team ranks second in the NFL with 5.3 yards per carry and third in the NFL with 8.2 yards per pass attempt. QB Aaron Rodgers has been able to lead this offense despite taking 11 sacks in four games. While he has been nearly flawless at home (75.0% completions, 10.5 YPA, 5 TD, 0 INT), Rodgers has been ordinary on the road, completing 58.8% of his passes for 577 yards, 4 TD and 3 INT. Rodgers has four talented receivers, who have all been targeted at least 22 times this season and who each have 2+ touchdown grabs. WR Randall Cobb leads the team in targets (38) and catches (25) while WR Jordy Nelson paces the club in receiving yards (371) and touchdowns (three), and WR James Jones has been the big-play threat with a 17.8 yards-per-catch average, boosted greatly by an 83-yard touchdown catch last week. TE Jermichael Finely has caught at least five passes in three of his four games. Rookie RB Eddie Lacy is coming off his best performance as a pro last week versus Detroit, rumbling for 99 yards on 23 carries (4.3 YPC). Although his backup, rookie RB Johnathan Franklin, has rushed for a hefty 6.5 YPC this year, Franklin has fumbled in each of the past two weeks, and will likely be delegated to third-string once RB James Starks (187 rush yards, 5.5 YPC) returns from a knee injury, which could be in Week 7. Defensively, Green Bay has been the worst team in the league in terms of red zone efficiency (82%), and has also been burned through the air for 288.8 passing YPG (26th in NFL) and 7.9 YPA (27th in league). The Packers have stuffed the run effectively though, allowing just 86.0 rushing YPG (5th in NFL) and 3.7 YPC (7th in league). The Packers have generated 12 sacks this season, but could struggle in this department without team sack leader OLB Clay Matthews (3 sacks), who is out for the next month with a fractured thumb. This adds to a growing list of injured defenders that includes CB Casey Hayward (hamstring, out), LB Rob Francois (Achilles, out) and LB Brad Jones (hamstring, doubtful). Green Bay has also been hurt by its lack of takeaways, having forced 0-to-1 turnovers in three of its four games this season, but hopes to be able to put major pressure on turnover-prone Ravens QB Joe Flacco.
Flacco has thrown just two touchdown passes and six picks over his past three games, but his team has still won two of those contests. Although this is a pass-heavy offense with Flacco tied for sixth in the NFL in passing attempts (201), RB Ray Rice finally being close to 100 percent will certainly help the team run the football better. The Ravens currently rank second-worst in the NFL with 2.8 yards per carry, but are coming off their best output of the season in terms of rushing yards (133) and YPC (3.3). Rice has never been below 4.0 YPC in his career, but currently has a dreadful 2.9 YPC rate, which hasn’t been much better in the receiving game where he has 4.2 yards per catch. Much of this dropoff has been the result of a nagging hip injury. Rice’s back-up, second-year RB Bernard Pierce, has been just as inefficient both on the ground (2.9 YPC) and through the air (four catches for seven yards). With the Packers’ secondary struggling this season, WRs Torrey Smith and Marlon Brown will be the keys to this offense. Smith is having an incredible 2013 campaign with 556 yards on a 20.6 average, which both rank second in the NFL. He already has 223 yards after catch (3rd in NFL) and 8.3 YAC per reception (4th in league). Smith has also been helped by the emergence of the undrafted rookie Brown, who has caught touchdown passes in three of his four NFL games. Brown missed last week with a thigh injury, but is listed as probable for Sunday. Since being blown out in Denver in Week 1, the Ravens defense has been outstanding, holding its past four opponents to 15.3 PPG and 291.8 total YPG. This includes limiting Miami to 22 yards on 11 carries last week, which improved the run defense numbers to 89.8 rushing YPG allowed (6th in NFL) and 3.4 YPC (5th in league). The pass defense has also been strong since that loss to Peyton Manning and the Broncos, surrendering only 195.8 passing YPG on 5.8 YPA in the past four contests. Like Green Bay, Baltimore is also dealing with its share of injuries on defense with LB Arthur Brown (shoulder), NT Terrence Cody (knee) and DT Marcus Spears (knee) all questionable for this matchup.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS (1-3) at DALLAS COWBOYS (2-3)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Dallas -6 & 53
Opening Line & Total: Cowboys -5.5 & 53.5
Despite carrying sub-.500 records, the winner of Sunday night’s Redskins and Cowboys game could be atop the NFC East standings heading into next week.
Dallas is coming off a hard-fought, 51-48 loss to the Broncos in which it lost by field goal as time expired. The Redskins, on the other hand, just had their bye week and will be looking to win a second straight game after starting the year 0-3. Last season, Washington won both meetings between the two teams, earning a 28-18 victory at home, and prevailing 38-31 on Thanksgiving in Dallas. In two games against the Cowboys last season, Robert Griffin III accounted for 496 total yards and five touchdowns. Those victories make the Redskins 13-3 ATS in this series since 2005. As the coach of Washington, Mike Shanahan is 14-5 ATS versus division opponents, but Dallas has adjusted well to bad defensive performances historically, as the team is 23-10 ATS after allowing 35 points or more in their last game since 1992. Cowboys WR Miles Austin has missed the past two weeks with a hamstring injury but will likely return to action on Sunday night. Redskins RB Alfred Morris (ribs) is also probable to start.
Washington is coming off of a bye week, but was able to win in Week 4 after finally getting a turnover-free game from QB Robert Griffin III. The second-year quarterback had tossed four interceptions in his first three games, but threw for 227 yards and a touchdown in the Redskins’ 24-14 victory over the Raiders. RB Alfred Morris rushed for 71 yards on 16 carries in that game, and he continues to run well with 5.3 yards per carry this season. WR Pierre Garcon is the Redskins’ best receiver this season with 29 receptions for 339 yards and two touchdowns, and he played great in Dallas last year with four catches for 86 yards, including a 59-yard TD catch. Washington is going to need to establish its running game if it is going to have any chance against the Cowboys because their defense isn’t good enough to be on the field for an extended period of time. The Redskins haven’t been able to stop anybody this season, as they have allowed an NFL-high 440.5 total YPG, including 298.3 YPG through the air (5th-worst in league) and 142.3 YPG on the ground (2nd-worst in NFL). Washington has allowed 28.0 PPG (T-26th in league) over its first four games.
Dallas has lost its past two games due to some horrendous play from its defense, which has allowed 81 points and 1,023 total yards against the Chargers and Broncos. Last week, the team allowed Broncos QB Peyton Manning to throw for 414 yards and four touchdowns with a passer rating of 129.6. The Cowboys defense has been good against the run this season, allowing just 82.8 yards per game (4th in NFL), but that is mostly because teams have been able to throw at will against them, as they have surrendered 326.4 yards per game through the air (31st in NFL). QB Tony Romo was exceptional last game against the Broncos, completing 25-of-36 passes for 506 yards (14.1 YPA) with five touchdowns. However, Romo ultimately fell short of leading his team to a victory as he threw a pick on his last possession. WR Terrance Williams filled in nicely for injured Miles Austin (hamstring) with four receptions (on four targets) for 151 yards and a touchdown. He will continue to produce if given a chance, as he now has 11 receptions for 222 yards and a touchdown over his past two games. WR Dez Bryant may just be the league’s best receiver this season as he has 29 receptions for 423 yards and six touchdowns, including two he had against the Broncos. Dallas’ offense has been producing all season with 30.4 PPG (2nd in NFL) and 6.2 yards per play (5th in league), but the defense is severely restricting the club.