Bookmakers made the Saints heavy favorites to win the Super Bowl and, as of Monday afternoon, the betting market agreed. The Saints were getting 5-to-2 odds to win it all with Kansas City next at 9-to-2. The Rams (5-to-1) and Patriots (6-to-1) were relative long shots.
I get why the Saints (13-3) are the favorites to win it all. They are the NFC’s No. 1 seed. New Orleans lost one game that mattered at home, way back in the season opener, and two overall.
It’s the odds that I’m not buying. Putting them in terms of implied probabilities, the market gives the Saints a 30 percent chance of winning the Super Bowl with Kansas City next at 18.2 percent. That big gap seems way off to me and the advanced statistics agree.
FiveThirtyEight’s statistical model gives the Saints a 21 percent chance to win the Super Bowl, just one percent better than Kansas City. Football Outsiders gives New Orleans a 25.8 percent chance to win the Super Bowl vs. 24.9 for Kansas City. Both stats models give the Saints a slight edge over the Rams to win the NFC, while bettors say the Saints have a nearly 20 percent better chance.
Maybe I’m wrong - it wouldn’t be the first time - but I just don’t see why the Saints are getting so much respect from the betting public. I’d definitely take the Chiefs or Patriots over the Saints in a hypothetical Super Bowl matchup. Heck, I’d be tempted to back the Ravens.
The Chiefs won 12 games while playing a much tougher schedule than New Orleans. Their offense is much better than any other. New England’s decline has been greatly exaggerated and everyone knows why the Patriots are trouble once they make it to the Super Bowl.
One of New England or Kansas City will have to deal with Baltimore or San Diego before the AFC championship game. That’s no easy task. That potentially tough path makes the Super Bowl odds longer for both the Chiefs and Patriots because, obviously, winning the big game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium first requires making it there.
New Orleans likely will face an easier route in the NFC. That helps to explain its shorter odds relative to the AFC’s top contenders. But I don’t think the NFC will be an easy walk for the Saints.
Certainly, the Rams can win in New Orleans. They lost there by 10 points on Nov. 4, after they’d rallied to tie with 21 unanswered points. The Rams have been inconsistent offensively, but they can keep pace with the Saints.
If the Rams don’t make it to New Orleans, I doubt any of the three NFC wild card would be much of a threat to the Saints. Chicago, the NFC North champion, is another matter.
The Bears are below average offensively. They are dominate defensively, maybe even better than Baltimore. That’s the kind of team that can give the Saints trouble.
This season, New Orleans played three opponents ranked within the top 10 of the Football Outsiders defensive efficiency metric. Against Baltimore, Minnesota and Dallas the Saints averaged 19 offensive points and 4.5 yards per play. In those games New Orleans had 23 real scoring drives (excluding kneel downs) and scored seven touchdowns, one of those an 18-yard drive.
Granted, the Saints were on the road in all those games. They played three solid defensive teams at home and had two outstanding scoring games (vs. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh) and one bad one (Cleveland). And New Orleans faced three top 10 offensive teams at home and only stopped the Falcons, who self-destructed with three red zone turnovers.
If the case for the Saints as big favorites is based on them playing at home, I’m not sure it’s as strong as it looks at first glance. A truly dominant team shouldn’t need that kind of caveat, anyway. Plus, the New Orleans offense has been inconsistent, especially late in the season (and I’m not counting the regular-season finale, when the Saints had the No. 1 seed already secured).
Just three weeks ago at Carolina, the Saints had more turnovers (two) than touchdowns on nine real drives. Recall that the Saints beat a reeling Falcons team on Nov. 22 at home with Brees throwing for just 171 yards. The Saints scored 31 points by running the ball on the Falcons, who also self-destructed with three red-zone turnovers.
Takeaways can be random, but the Saints are a very good power running team. The Rams yield rushing yards, and so do the Chiefs. The two wild card favorites this weekend, Chicago and Dallas, are stout against the run.
What happens if New Orleans can’t grind out rushing yards in a playoff game? The obvious answer is Brees to the rescue. He’s won a Super Bowl and, though he turns 40 before this one, he still looks capable of doing it again.
However, note that over his final five games Brees had seven touchdown passes against four interceptions. Over that stretch Brees completed 69 percent of his passes while averaging just 206 yards. Obviously Brees can turn it on after the bye, but there was some real slippage for him and the New Orleans offense during the final fourth of the season.
Again, I’m not saying the Saints shouldn’t be Super Bowl favorites. I haven’t even mentioned their defense yet. It’s legit, if inconsistent. The Saints aren’t great in coverage but if opponents can’t control their pass rush in that dome, it won’t matter so much.
The other NFC contenders have holes, too. The Rams aren’t great defensively. Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky is boom-or-bust and he doesn’t have a great running game he can lean on. Dallas, Seattle and Philadelphia form a lackluster group of NFC wild card teams.
The Saints at home with Brees, a strong run defense and a great pass rush is a formidable combination. That’s why they are a reasonable pick to win the Super Bowl.
I just don’t see the Saints as the clear favorite. Not with the Rams and Bears on their side of the bracket and, if they make it to the Super Bowl, the Chiefs or Pats likely waiting in the big game.
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