New Orleans Saints at New England Patriots (-3, 39 o/u)
Get excited, NFL fans, because football is back! Then temper that excitement significantly because we still have to get through four weeks of preseason snoozers before the real action commences. Still, preseason football is better than no football, and the perennially contending New England Patriots will kick things off against a New Orleans Saints team looking to bounce back from a mediocre campaign.
The Pats and Saints will kick things off at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro this Thursday (7:30 PM ET).
The Patriots, who went 12-4 last season before falling to Denver in the AFC Championship, will be anxious to take the field after an offseason full of distractions. The team will have to face the first four games of the year without Tom Brady under center. That means the untested Jimmy Garoppolo will be at the helm.
The Eastern Illinois product has attempted just 31 regular season passes in his two-year career.
Brady’s suspension puts head coach Bill Belichick in a bit of a preseason pickle. He’ll want to get first-unit reps for both his franchise QB and his Week 1 starter. He’ll also want to protect both so that he isn’t relegated to third-stringer Jacoby Brissett during any meaningful action.
It remains to be seen who will start this week’s game and how Brady and Garoppolo split snaps.
The Pats got good news on the injury front this week with WR Julian Edelman (foot surgery) returning to practice from the PUP list. He won’t suit up for this week’s game, however.
New England will be facing a Saints team (7-9 in 2015) that’s suffering from an identity crisis of sorts. The combination of Sean Payton and Drew Brees have long rendered the team an offensive juggernaut. But Brees no longer has the same type of weapons on the outside – or over the middle – for New Orleans to play run-and-gun successfully.
They did have the top passing offense in the league last year, but that’s largely because they found themselves trailing early and often and were forced to abandon the run. Given that their league-worst defense probably won’t make massive strides this year, look for Payton to lean on Mark Ingram and the run game more heavily this season – especially early in games – to keep the clock winding and his defense off the field.
While we won’t be able to tell much about what these teams will really look like from Thursday’s game – the starters will only play a series or two – there is some recent, relevant history to help bettors. These teams met in the preseason last year and the Patriots won 26-24. Garoppolo had a great outing, going 28 of 33 for 269 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Brees was equally good, going 8 of 10 for 159 yards and two majors, but the subs for New Orleans couldn’t say the same. And that was a trend for the Saints throughout the preseason as they went winless (0-4).
In all likelihood, both Brady and Garoppolo will see action for New England. That means two quality QBs will be marching the team down the field at points. I think that will be enough for the Patriots to cover at home against Brees and his backups, Luke McCown and second-year man Garrett Grayson.
Pick: Patriots -3.
(Photo Credit: By Keith Allison from Baltimore, USA (Tom Brady) CC BY-SA 2.0 [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0], via Wikimedia Commons)