Each week Matt Midlikowski will break down a combination of three games from the weekend NFL and NCAA Football line spreads. There will be a featured game, with a more thorough breakdown, followed by two additional games with brief nuggets. Get the goods on which lines to play, whether it be the points or the over/under, or both.
Houston Texans at New Orleans Saints (-7)
Monday, September 9th, 7:10p ET – Mercedes-Benz Superdome [ESPN]
Any regular season match-up is a welcome sight after a seemingly endless preseason, but we potentially have the game of the week kicking off Monday Night Football, when the Texans meet the Saints in New Orleans. This game has playmakers all over the field, and that talent is spread evenly to give us all the makings of a Week 1 classic. Both teams made the playoffs last season, and both are looking to hit the ground running again in 2019.
The line for this game opened with New Orleans as seven point favorites and hasn’t moved, even as Houston pulled off some trades to finish off the preseason. The over/under total sits at 52.5 after opening a point higher. The Saints are getting about 60% of the action in early betting, with the over seeing about the same bet ratio.
The Texans first made waves by trading away DE Jadeveon Clowney, and while it may have been the best move for the team in the long run, his absence will be felt by a defense that struggled against the pass last year when they couldn’t get a consistent rush. Houston was 28th against the pass, allowing 260 yards per game and is now left with J.J. Watt as the only consistent disruptor. Watt logged 16 sacks last year, and recorded 38 sacks during the ‘14-’15 seasons, but he will see plenty of double teams and TE-chipping now that he is doing most of the heavy lifting on that line.
Another big move saw OL Laremy Tunsil come over from Miami, and he immediately bolsters a maligned unit that allowed a league-worst 62 sacks last year. DeShaun Watson should excel with a cleaner pocket, and his ceiling got a nice boost in what was already supposed to be his best season yet.
Kenny Stills was part of that Tunsil trade and he may play a bigger role than some suggest, as Keke Coutee is still a bit raw and Will Fuller continues to struggle with injuries. Fuller has put up a 60-926-11 line in seventeen career games, but has missed just as many as he has played. Having Stills brings some stability and proven playmaking if needed.
Carlos Hyde was added late to round out a backfield that lost Lamar Miller to the IR. His addition is mostly for depth, as Hyde has managed just 3.6 yards per carry over the last three years. Duke Johnson will assume much of the lead back role and it remains to be seen how effective he is running the ball. Johnson is a proven receiver with 235 career receptions, and eight of his thirteen touchdowns coming in the pass game.
Of course, the most important skill guy for Houston is DeAndre Hopkins. He hit 115 receptions and 1,500 yards last year, and is also a beneficiary of the Tunsil deal, as Watson should have more time to throw downfield. Hopkins has at least 11 touchdowns in each of the seasons where he hit the 90-catch mark, and it seems that he will blow by that threshold again this year.
With all that offensive prowess, the defense can be overlooked, but Houston did finish 4th in points allowed at 19.8 per game and 3rd in run-stopping. The Clowney loss hurts their ability to reach those numbers again, and that is a factor in most folks looking at the over as the best bet this week.
New Orleans Capsule
The Saints have one of the most stable organizational dynamics in all of football with Sean Payton and Drew Brees leading the team since 2006. Time is probably coming to an end for both in New Orleans, but the Saints should be a factor in the NFC again after going 13-3 last year. They did lose two at home in 2018, but there is no arguing that Brees is made for the dome, and he has completed at least 70% of his passes in three straight seasons. The offense ranked 3rd in the league at 31.5 points per game.
Alvin Kamara has emerged as one of the best receiving backs in all of football, catching 81 passes in each of his first two seasons. The Saints were comfortable letting Mark Ingram go, but did bring in Latavius Murray to back up Kamara. Murray will probably not see a ton of work, but he should get the short-yardage touches, and has a nose for the end-zone with 26 rushing scores over the last three years.
Michael Thomas snagged 125 balls last year for 1,400 yards, and leads a receiving group that features a bit of everything. Tre’Quan Smith looks to expand on a 427 yard rookie season, and Ted Ginn is still able to take the top off the defense. The pantry was full for Brees, but the Saints brought in TE Jared Cook from Oakland to add another layer of production. Cook finished 2018 with 896 receiving yards, and has drawn positive reviews in camp.
The playmakers get the attention but the offensive line is a major reason for the success in New Orleans. That group powered the 7th ranked rush offense and allowed the 2nd fewest sacks (20) last season. Brees is one of the best at getting the ball out quickly, but he has time if he needs it behind a line that is all 6’4’’ or more, and averages 315 pounds.
The New Orleans D is much like their opponent this week, as they are stout against the run but can be had with the pass. The Saints allowed just 80 rushing yards per game, good for 2nd in the league, but were 4th worst against the pass in surrendering 270 yards per contest. Cam Jordan has 25 sacks over the last two seasons, but the pass-rush often lacks behind him.
Houston enters Week 1 with just three wins against the spread in their last eleven games on the road. Primetime hasn’t been kind to them either with just three ATS wins in the last ten on Monday Night.
New Orleans enjoys a strong home field advantage but is riding an 0-4 ATS home skid. They are 0-5 against the spread in their last five opening games and the over has hit in four of the last five Saints games on MNF.
Offense, offense, offense. No disrespect to the defenses, but both QBs should be able to move the ball through the air on Monday Night, and the scoring pace could be very quick with so much receiving talent on the field. Opening games can be sloppy, but I think these teams are going to come out sharp. Brees and Watson accounted for 67 combined touchdowns last year, and I’m happy taking the over with those two leading the way.
Breaking down the 7-point line is a little more tricky, as there is no shortage of scenarios that have the Saints winning by seven. I expect Houston to trail as their defense figures out life without Clowney, and settle in with new running backs against a tough defense. That said, I would be super nervous about a late game scenario that has New Orleans up by thirteen, only to allow a late score and spoil a cover. I’d rather take Houston and have that late touchdown play in my favor. Give me the Texans and the seven with the Saints getting a 31-26 win.
Two More Before You Go
Condensed, boiled down, and compact. In a nutshell, The Betting Brief takes a look at a handful of games and breaks them down using the most relevant macro stats and storylines.
#6 LSU Tigers (-6.5) at #9 Texas Longhorns (over/under 56)
Saturday, September 7th, 7:30pm ET – Texas Memorial Stadium [ABC]
This is the best on-paper matchup of the Week Two college slate, and one we don’t often see considering these teams haven’t met since 2003. The line opened with LSU as 2.5-point favorites, but that has been hammered all the way to 6.5 and may not stop there, with 55% of the bets still coming in on the LSU side.
There was no surprise in LSU drubbing Georgia Southern last week, but their offense did open some eyes. QB Joe Burrow found fourteen different receivers as part of a 23-for-27 day, and threw for five scores. The Tigers looked significantly better with the pass, and set Orgeron-era records for attempts and completions in a game. Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase, and Terrance Marshall all logged a touchdown catch, with Marshall snagging three. That WR group is tall and will be brutal to defend if LSU continues to commit to the pass. It wasn’t a tough test for the defense, but the Tigers did hold Southern to 98 total yards and just 1.9 yards per rush.
Texas cruised to a 45-14 win over Louisiana Tech in their opener, but their success was rather one sided as the defense allowed 413 total yards (340 passing) and 25 first downs. The Longhorns did jump out to a 38-0 lead, so game-flow did have some say in how they played down the stretch, but they will need better on Saturday.
Junior QB Sam Ehlinger looked sharp in throwing for 276 yards and four touchdowns. He has three senior wide receivers at his disposal, and found two of them – Collin Johnson, and Devin Duvernay – for scores last week. Johnson exited the game with a groin injury and is listed as questionable for Saturday. RB Keaontay Ingram had 121 total yards and scored, to round out a rather complete offensive showing for the Longhorns.
LSU is 6-2 against the spread in their last eight road games.
LSU is 4-0-1 ATS in their last five against a Big 12 opponent.
The under is 13-6 in the last 19 Texas home games.
LSU is a different animal if they can pass. I will lay the points and take the Tigers. A 30-21 LSU wins has the under a good bet, too.
Atlanta Falcons at Minnesota Vikings (-4) (over/under 47.5)
Sunday, September 8th, 1pm ET – US Bank Stadium [FOX]
Styles make fights, and we should have a good one here with Atlanta’s KO offense headed north to take on Minnesota’s usually stout defense. Neither team met expectations in 2018, but they both must have thought last season was a bump in the road, as neither did any major overhaul to their rosters. The line has stayed consistent with the Falcons entering as a four-point underdog, and Atlanta has gotten about 53% of the early bets. The over is a little more popular, receiving about 60% of the action.
It is the season of discontent for many star players, and that has extended to Atlanta where Julio Jones wants a new deal before laying his body on the line this season, but has stopped short of saying he will sit out. That is good, as his lack of an actual hold out meant he has been practicing and in meetings, but his mental and emotional state is a huge question mark ahead of Sunday. Jones is pivotal to this offense, reaching the 1,400-yard plateau in each of the last five seasons. He has only one season with double-digit touchdowns, but a Falcons passing game that ranked 4th last season is literally built around him. If he isn’t all-in, it is immediate trouble for this team.
Matt Ryan does have some reason to be excited even with the Jones situation, as Dirk Koetter is back to run the offense. Ryan had his most consistent success during Koetter’s last run with the team, and he will be an MVP candidate if he can build on his 4,924 yards and 38 touchdowns from last year.
Calvin Ridley hit 820 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns in his rookie season. He makes for an awesome compliment to Jones, and TE Austin Hooper, who snagged 71 balls in 2018. The Atlanta running game averaged less than 100 yards last season, so it was the passing game that powered the Falcons to 25.9 points per game.
The team let Tevin Coleman go in the offseason and will again rely on Devonta Freeman, who is reportedly in great health after a groin injury sent him to the IR last year. From 2015-2018, Freeman rushed for 3,000 yards and scored 29 times with 163 receptions over that span. If he produces anything close to those numbers, Atlanta is an easy Top 5 offense. Ito Smith will assume the secondary back role, where he looked good at times as a runner, and was also alive in the passing game with 27 receptions as a rookie.
The defense was a bit of a mess in 2018, and there are plenty of question marks heading into week one. Atlanta was no better than 25th in passing or rushing yards allowed and gave up 26.4 points per game. In case you didn’t know, allowing more than you score is not the preferred method of winning games. Dan Quinn is pulling double-duty this season as he assumes the defensive coordinator role. His last DC gig went well with Seattle’s defense allowing just eight points in the Super Bowl.
Minnesota had massive expectations heading into last year and fell short due to poor execution in big spots. Kirk Cousins should be better in year two, and he wasn’t exactly bad while throwing for 4,300 yards and 30 touchdowns. He does need to make a few more plays when it counts, but he has the weapons.
Dalvin Cook heads into his second year post-ACL surgery and could be one of the best three-down backs if he can just stay on the field. Cook has averaged 4.7 yards per carry in his career, while averaging 3.4 receptions per game. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen both hit the 100-catch mark last season, and combined for 18 scores. That duo is underrated when people talk about the best WR combos, and their skill sets allow the Vikings to work any area on the field on any pass play. Kyle Rudolph has not missed a game in four seasons, collecting 24 touchdown receptions over that span. This is a good offense that should be great, if Cook stays healthy, and Cousins doesn’t backtrack.
The Minnesota D has a tough assignment this week, but recent trends say they are up for the challenge after allowing just 21.3 points per game in 2018. They were 3rd in pass defense, 4th in total yards allowed, and averaged over three sacks per game. The secondary is one of the few that could possibly hope to hold down the Falcons receivers, and they will make them work for it if nothing else.
Atlanta is 2-6 against the spread in their last eight games overall and 1-4 ATS in the last five road games.
Minnesota is 4-1 ATS in the last five openers and 9-3 ATS in their last 12 September games.
The under is 4-1 in the last five games at US Bank Stadium.
Minnesota held opposing QBs to an 80.1 rating last season. Matt Ryan without Julio stands no chance in my mind but even if Jones suits up, this is a tough match. Four points doesn’t seem too much to lay and I’m eyeing the under as well as the Vikings pick up a 26-20 win.