The New Orleans Saints are in bounce-back mode going into Sunday’s (Sept. 16) home game against the Cleveland Browns. Sean Payton’s team was the biggest favorite on the board in Week 1, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers came into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and captured a 48-40 win as 9.5-point road underdogs.
Gamblers backing the “over” cashed an easy winner when the 88 combined points catapulted above the 49.5-point total. Tampa Bay hooked up its money-line supporters with a +325 return (paid $325 on $100 bets).
The surprising upset eliminated a good chunk of the field in Survivor Pools — contests in which participants must choose one team to win outright each week to survive – across the country. The stunner also busted all sorts of wagers at The Beau Rivage’s new Race and Sports Book in Biloxi, Mississippi.
“(Tampa Bay) was a good one for us,” said Will Hall, the Beau’s Sports Book Manager. “They killed a bunch of everything. It was a perfect storm with a lot of players taking the Saints in teasers, parlays and at halftime, too.”
Trailing 31-24 at intermission, most shops installed New Orleans as a nine-point favorite for second-half bets. In this scenario, Saints backers had them at the adjusted number of minus two (down by seven points, laying nine in the second half) for the game. Even with 7.5 extra points of value compared to the original line of 9.5, this bet on the Saints was obviously a dud.
Despite the poor performance in its opener, New Orleans is heavily favored once again (-9.5) for its Week 2 showdown vs. Cleveland. The total for “over/under” wagers is 49, and the Browns are +360 on the money line.
When asked if his book was getting flooded with bets on the Saints again this week, Hall said, “Not quite as aggressive, but I’m sure that’ll change by late Sunday morning.”
Cleveland rallied from a 21-7 deficit midway through the fourth quarter to score a pair of touchdowns and force overtime vs. Pittsburgh in its opener. Neither offense could produce in the extra session, resulting in a 21-21 tie. The Browns covered the number as 3.5-point underdogs, while the 42 combined points slipped “over” the 41-point total.
It certainly won’t hurt New Orleans’ cause that Cleveland had to play five quarters last week. However, this type of spot hasn’t been good to the Saints since 2014, as they’ve limped to a 9-17-1 against-the-spread record in their past 27 games as home “chalk.”
Cleveland hasn’t fared much better in the role of a road underdog. Since 2012, the Browns are 18-26-1 against the spread in 45 such spots. They’re 5-11 ATS as road ‘dogs since Hue Jackson took over as head coach in 2016.
Cleveland has won five of the last six head-to-head meetings with New Orleans both straight up and against the spread. The Browns beat the closing number by 25 points in their last trip to the Superdome, winning 30-17 as 12-point road underdogs on Sept. 10, 2010. Even though this game was played eight years ago, I remember it like it was yesterday because, yes, I had the Saints in my Survivor Pool that season.
These teams haven’t squared off since 2014, when Cleveland won a 26-24 decision as a 4.5-point home underdog. Billy Cundiff’s 29-yard field goal with three seconds remaining gave the Browns the victory and elevated the 50 combined points “over” the 49.5-point tally.
New Orleans and Cleveland have been polar opposites when it comes to totals over the past decade. The Saints have seen the “over” hit at an 87-71-3 overall clip and at a 46-32-1 rate in their home games since 2008. On the flip side, the “under” has gone 90-68-3 overall for the Browns, 42-37-2 in their road assignments.
New Orleans clearly looked like its usual self offensively with its 40-point output last week, but the defense was another story. Even though it didn’t taste victory in its opener, Cleveland appears to be vastly improved with the return of Josh Gordon and the addition of Jarvis Landry. On that note, I’m recommending a small play on the Browns as rich underdogs.
I’m more bullish (amount-wise) on several other plays, though. Let’s start with the Carolina Panthers, who are six-point underdogs at Atlanta. The Falcons lost 18-12 at Philadelphia in their opener, failing to score any points on three red-zone opportunities. They also lost two of their best defensive players, safety Keanu Neal and Deion Jones, to injuries.
Neal will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL, while Jones is out at least eight weeks with a foot injury. Both third-year players went to the Pro Bowl last season and have been starters since the first game of their rookie years.
Atlanta has limped to an 11-19 ATS record in its last 30 games as a home favorite. The Falcons haven’t solved their red-zone issues that have emerged since Steve Sarkisian was hired as offensive coordinator when Kyle Shanahan left to take the head-coaching gig in San Francisco.
Carolina has thrived as a road underdog since 2012, compiling a 20-8 ATS ledger. I made Atlanta a four-point favorite before finding out that Jones wasn’t going to play. The club’s leading tackler from last season is worth at least 1/2 point if not more. I like the Panthers as my favorite play of Week 2.
Kansas City took it to the Los Angeles Chargers early and often in Tinseltown last week. Patrick Mahomes garnered AFC Player of the Week honors by leading his team to a 38-28 victory as a 3.5-point underdog. Mahomes threw for 256 yards and four touchdowns without an interception.
The Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill is rapidly becoming the NFL’s most explosive weapon. He turned 11 touches into 268 all-purpose yards and three TDs against the Bolts. Let’s go with the Chiefs, who are 13-9 against the spread as road underdogs since Andy Reid took over, as five-point ‘dogs at Heinz Field.
Finally, we can’t pass on the New England Patriots as one-point favorites at Jacksonville. When you have substantial edges at the QB position and in the head-coaching department like we have here, you must take advantage. Let’s round out our Week 2 picks with a play on the Patriots.
Brian Edwards is a Senior Handicapper at VegasInsider.com. You can find more of his work at BrianEdwardsSports.com and follow him on twitter @vegasbedwards.
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