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Cardinals at Saints
3* Key Release
Well, the NFL playoffs kicked off last week with the Wild Card games and from my perspective, all the games were duds. Unless of course you are a fan, or were a backer of the winning teams who all pretty much had their games in check from the first snap. What the 1st round lacked was drama. Ok, the Cards and Packers made up for it in a small way, with the Packers comeback and forcing OT, but that game by and large was a mess. An ugly game to watch.
If you're a football fan without an allegiance to one team or another you want drama. You want the game decided by one or two key plays or one key turnover. You don't want teams marching up and down the field scoring at will the way the Cards and Pack did. You don't want sloppy turnovers like we saw in the Pats Ravens game. You want near perfect football where every move is magnified. After all, these are supposed to be the best of the best. We didn't get it this past week. Will we get that this week? It's doubtful.
The first game we are going to look at is the first game on the schedule, the Cardiac Cardinals at the Saints. The Saints are favored by a touchdown with a total of 57 at most top sportsbooks.
Lots of folks will look at the Saints down the stretch, and the Cardinals most recent game, specifically the 1st half against the packers, and assume they have a live dog on their hands. I'd be careful with that assumption however. Instead, I think you need to look at the Cardinals team that was outscored 35-21 in the 2nd half, not including the overtime and couldn't stop a powder puff girls team.
You'll hear lots of talk leading up to this weeks game about how the Saints struggled down the stretch this year. How they are banged up and not the same team they were the first half of the season. Don't buy into it. One of the most difficult things for any team to do in the NFL, is maintain intensity throughout a 16 game regular season. It's just about impossible, which is why you don't see undefeated teams in the NFL. Every team has their peaks and valleys.
It's even more difficult for a team that has won all of their games, or most of their games, to maintain that intensity. Once a team locks up a playoff spot, even if they haven't clinched home field, the urgency changes. The mindset changes. The games are still important, just not as important, and certainly not do or die. Most great teams of the past, no matter how good, stumble at some point during the year. I always think of the 85 Bears. What a team. But they lost a game to the Dolphins that year which prevented them from being perfect.
That's how I would explain the Saints down the stretch. They were legitimately beaten by a very good Cowboys team December 19th. But even going into that game, the playoffs were clinched. They were playing for home field throughout. Again, the urgency isn't the same when you'll live to fight another day regardless of the outcome.
I think the Saints team you need to consider going into this game, is the team that was whipping everyone through the first 11 games of the season. Most teams couldn't come close, and that includes the Eagles, in Philly, and the Patriots. In fact, after 12 weeks of play, the Saints had the 3rd most productive offensive team in NFL history in terms of points scored and they were converting 48% on 3rd down.
It was a Saints team that could seemingly turn it on at will. That's how good this team is. Remember when they were down 24-10 in Miami at the half. What's the word we are preaching? Urgency! Time to flip the switch. What was the 2nd half score? 36-10 Saints. That wasn't the only time they had to "flip the switch". They slept walked through the Redskins game as well. Who could blame them? Who could get pumped to play one of the worst teams in the NFL this year? But the urgency showed it's head in the 3rd quarter when the Saints found themselves down 27-17. It took overtime but the Saints got the W. Don't think for a minute that the Saints are only a field goal better than the Redskins.
So here were are. The Divisional round of the playoffs. Do or die. At home. A rabid New Orleans home crowd. One of the best offensive teams ever against a team that was lit up for 45 points by the Packers. Plus all the "urgency" you'd ever need. Lose and your season is over. Personally, I would be completely shocked if the Saints lost this week. More so than any other game on the board.
Truthfully, by the numbers I like to rely on, this line is inflated. I'd make the true line -4. Seeing the line inflated for the home fav isn't uncommon in the playoffs. I'll rarely make a play outside these numbers. If anything, I'd pass if the numbers didn't support a play. With very few exceptions, and these numbers hold up whether you look at season to date, or just the last 6 meaningful games. But I'm going to make an exception here.
I'm not sold on this Cardinals team. I just don't think they are very good. I am sold on the Saints though. I think the Cards run into a buzz saw here. I think you'll see a Saints team that's chompin at the bit to send a message to the remaining playoff teams. I think they execute from start to finish and take advantage of a turnover prone Cardinals team that will be hard pressed to deal with all of the Saints weapons. I also know you'll see the loudest, most pumped up crowd of any other home crowds this year.
I think the Saints win this one going away, with an exclamation point, setting the stage for an NFC Title game at home against the Vikings or Cowboys. So we'll make this a 3* Key Release - Saints -7
If you're planning on playing any teasers or money line parlays, consider using the Saints and taking them down to pk. Just can't see them going down in this spot.
Hoops Plays coming soon!