Musical chairs must not use jazz.
The Saints were the odd team out in the race for the top two seeds in the NFC. But betting markets still have the fleur-de-lis favored ahead of the second-seeded Packers, and just behind the top-seeded 49ers on championship futures boards.
Drew Brees and company will visit Lambeau Field next week if they beat Minnesota on Sunday. The first step in a potential Saints march to a title kicks off an NFC doubleheader …
New Orleans (-8) vs. Minnesota (1:05 p.m., Fox)
- Minnesota: 16th offense, 14th defense, 25th schedule, plus-11 turnover margin
- New Orleans: ninth offense, 11th defense, 13th schedule, plus-15 turnover margin
Those aren’t exactly juggernaut numbers for New Orleans. Though the offense might have ranked higher if Brees didn’t miss several games with an injury.
As we discussed Saturday regarding the Patriots, a great turnover differential is more of a weapon against non-contenders than it is against quality opponents who know how to execute. Minnesota also had a strong differential, granting that it came against a softer schedule.
On the whole, our key indicator stats show why New Orleans will probably close near a touchdown favorite … but don’t indicate a likely blowout. And, frankly, they don’t suggest a road sweep of the Packers and Niners, either.
Minnesota would be close to an auto-bet above a touchdown if it hadn’t crashed and burned in a recent Monday night home loss to Green Bay. That version of the Vikings has little chance here. It’s up to Kirk Cousins to get the ship righted.
Closing out wild-card weekend …
Seattle (-11/2) at Philadelphia (4:40 p.m., NBC)
- Seattle: eighth offense, 26th defense, most difficult schedule, plus-12 turnover margin
- Philadelphia: 14th offense, 10th defense, easiest schedule, minus-3 turnover margin
Seattle may have peaked too early and is hurt by a rash of late-season injuries. The Seahawks still earned the right to face the worst team in the playoffs.
Look at those strength-of-schedule rankings. Best and worst in the NFL. Imagine the stats (and perceptions) of Seattle if it had played the easiest schedule … and imagine how bad the Eagles would look if they had played the toughest. Sloppy Philadelphia posted a negative turnover differential against an easy slate.
At full strength, Seattle would have opened at higher than a field goal. Sharps didn’t show any interest in driving the line that high through the week. If the line sticks in the +11/2 to +21/2 range Sunday morning, pro bettors will use the Eagles in six-point teasers that would cross both key numbers of three and seven (probably paired with the Saints coming down from the other direction). If the public pushes the Seahawks to -3, sharp ‘dog lovers would jump in hard on Philly.
The Eagles catch a break facing a watered down version of the Seahawks. They will be much bigger underdogs next week if they spring this small upset.