NFL: Baltimore Ravens at New Orleans Saints Preview

Drew BreesWith the playoffs in sight, the (4-6) New Orleans Saints host the (6-4) Baltimore Ravens at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for a Monday night match up you won’t want to miss (8:30pm EST on ESPN).

It is a safe bet to say that every team in the NFL wishes they were in the NFC South right now. If they were, they’d have a shot they might not otherwise have at the postseason.

There are 19 teams in the league that have records better than the Saints including the entire AFC North division, in it the Ravens. Baltimore is in third place with a record that is two games better than that of New Orleans and yet, it is the Saints who are tied atop their division and in a playoff position.

The NFC South as a whole has been just as bad this year as the AFC North has been good. Each of the four teams in the South are below .500 and each of the four teams in the North are above .500. The fourth place team in the North would be the first place team in the South and vice versa.

While the Saints have recently been the class of the NFC South, this year it has not been the case. And because of the division-wide struggles, it is very possible a sub-.500 team reaches the postseason and not just reaches it, but does so as a division winner. Of course, winning the division comes with the right to play a home game in the playoffs and for the Saints this might be all they need to advance out of the first round.

When the Saints go Marching Home

Every team wants home-field advantage in the playoffs. Beyond the fan support, there are numerous benefits to playing within the friendly confines of a stadium you know all too well. This is something that affects all teams but when it comes to the Saints, having home field advantage could make all the difference.

As I mentioned above, the Saints and home-field advantage go together like peanut butter and jelly, spaghetti and meatballs, yin and yang.

Since 2009, the year New Orleans won the Super Bowl, the Saints are 36-11 in home games. This includes two 8-0 seasons at the Superdome and a perfect home playoff record during that time as well. In fact, the Saints haven’t lost a home playoff game in over 20 years. Road games, well that is quite a different story.

This year is no different. In New Orleans’ first eight games, the team was 3-0 at home and 1-4 on the road. They emerged as the premier home team in the NFL, doing so with a statement win against one of the NFL’s best teams in the Green Bay Packers. In the past two weeks however, the Saints have dropped two in a row at home and are no longer a sure thing.

Fortunately for Baltimore, a team who needs a win to keep pace in that increasingly difficult AFC North, New Orleans isn’t perfect at home. Coming off those two losses, they might even be vulnerable. However, the Saints haven’t lost more than four games at home since their ’09 SB run and it is unlikely that changes this year.

Attack of the Committee

When the season began, Raven’s fans had reason to worry. Starting running back Ray Rice was suspended by the NFL and subsequently cut by the team after it came out that he beat his fiancé in an elevator. His actions left the Ravens without a top back and in the league these days, this was certainly not what Baltimore needed.

And yet here we are, 11 weeks into the season, and the Ravens have established a formidable ground game, doing so behind the efforts of a veteran journeyman with just 357 rushing attempts under his belt and a 22-year-old rookie who first toted the ball in this year’s third week.

Together, Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro have combined to carry the ball close to 1,000 yards with nine touchdowns. Forsett has emerged as the primary back with Taliaferro as the go-to goal line guy. They have essentially taken over the running game and have done so to a great level of success.

Fortunately for this unlikely tandem, New Orleans has been inept at stopping the run, especially in the past two weeks. Against the San Francisco 49ers and Frank Gore, the Saints allowed 144 yards on the ground. Against the Cincinnati Bengals and their uncertain RB situation, New Orleans gave up 186 yards on just 36 carries (5+ yards per carry).

If the Saints’ run defense continues to suffer, not only does that forecast a big day for the Baltimore backs but it also affects the team’s ability to rush the quarterback and impact the passing game. Ultimately, the running game is the first line of defense and if the Saints can’t stop it they could be looking at another tough home loss.

The Vanishing Offense

New Orleans is a team that is built to be a potent offense. Drew Brees (pictured above) is one of the NFL’s best gunslingers and has thrown most yards in a season many times. Jimmy Graham is one of the NFL’s best tight ends. Brandin Cooks is an incredibly athletic, young receiver. Mark Ingram is finally having the breakout year fans hoped for when he was drafted four years ago.

The team is third in the NFL in passing yards and eighth in rushing. This is an offense that can go for the jugular and at times this year they have. But mysteriously enough, there have been times when this offense has all but disappeared.

If the Saints hope to win against the Ravens, they will need to return to the offense that scored 44 points against the Packers this year, not the one that scored 10 points last week.

Baltimore Ravens at New Orleans Saints Betting Picks

So we’ve got a sometimes perfect offense, a running back overload and a home-field record that may be in doubt. So what does that mean for this game?

  • Take the Saints to cover the -3.5 point spread at best odds of +110 with 5Dimes Sportsbook (the same spread is -105 with Bovada and BetOnline go -3pts for -110 odds). Baltimore is the only team Brees has never beaten and in a year where records are being broken left and right, expect this one to fall as well. The Saints are a powerful team and match up well against the Ravens. And to expect them to lose three in a row at home is almost an impossibility.
  • As for the total points in the game, bet on the over 50pts at -110 with Bovada, 5Dimes or BetOnline. The Saints defense is just about as bad as the offense is good. This should amount to a high scoring contest.
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