New Orleans Saints @ Cincinnati Bengals: Home team can hang with tired Saints

Drew Brees
Drew Brees
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The Saints had a sensational win last week and look like a Super Bowl winning team, but the handicap line is too generous to Cincinnati given New Orleans recent run of games, writes Mark Kirwan...

"The Saints have come through their toughest stretch of the season, the Rams win following a fortunate victory at Baltimore and a big revenge game in Minneapolis. Now they can breathe. The relief that comes with seeing off such a run is likely to bring a bit of a letdown."

New Orleans Saints @ Cincinnati Bengals
Sunday, 18:00 GMT
Live on Sky Sports Action

One of the best things about doing this is sometimes you get to write about a team you really love, so a big thanks to Sky for picking the Saints this week. Sadly, looking at the line, this looks like a spot where you have to oppose the most exciting team in the league.

Saints ascending

The Saints and Rams played out one of the games of the season last week in the Superdome. The team from the gulf coast gave their backers a scare when they ceased scoring after half-time having built an 18-point lead over the Super Bowl favourites, but they switched back on when LA levelled the scores at 35-35 and brought to an end the last undefeated record in the league.

It was a big win. Their week one loss to Tampa gave some cause to doubt the credentials of Sean Payton's side following last year's sensational run to the Divisional round of the playoffs, but if anything, they look better this term.

What's surprising is how limited the spread of their offensive production is. Besides Mike Thomas - only Adam Thielen and DeAndre Hopkins could challenge him for the all-league award at receiver this season - no other wide-out on the roster has more than 215 yards. Cameron Meredith's gone to IR as a bust of a free agent signing along with Ted Ginn. Tre'Quan Smith, a rookie, has flashed his talent, but Ben Watson, 37 years young, is still making big plays in this offence at tight end.

This is weird because the Saints for the best part of the last decade were a machine for manufacturing receiving yardage.

What's changed is their running backs, and specifically the all-round threat second year back Alvin Kamara offers. He has more than 900 yards and 12 touchdowns already this season.

With him in the backfield, 39-year-old Drew Brees is playing better than ever and could put the cap on his Hall of Fame career with a second ring - and maybe a third or fourth if he plays as long as he wants to.

Bengals bruised

Through the opening weeks the Bengals looked like they could be a resurgent force, not unlike last years' Saints, thanks to improved blocking for QB Andy Dalton and their running game.

They were 4-1 when the Steelers came to Paul Brown Stadium, and looked like they'd won the game until a Dre Kirkpatrick holding penalty gave Big Ben another shot at saving the game and he grabbed it.

They lost tight end Tyler Eifert the week previously, and since then their offence hasn't quite looked as fluid as in the opening weeks. Knocks to Tyler Boyd, Joe Mixon and John Ross haven't helped either, but this week they've lost Dalton's safety blanket AJ Green too.

He should be back this season, but that's not much use when you're heading into a likely shoot-out with the best offence in the league.

The Picks

So how in the hell are the Bengals +5.5 the best bet here? There are few big factors in their favour.

First, while the Saints were going toe-to-toe with the Rams last week, Marvin Lewis' men were on a bye. That gives them more time to prepare - admittedly the assumption that Lewis has made the most of it is one some would challenge - but at the very least it has given them a chance to rest their aches and pains.

Meanwhile, the Saints have come through their toughest stretch of the season, the Rams win followed a fortunate victory at Baltimore and a big revenge game in Minneapolis. Now they can breathe. The relief that comes with seeing off such a run is likely to bring a bit of a letdown.

Also, they're back playing the AFC North again, it's getting colder, and they won't be playing in a dome. Cincy have shown they can score, and though Green is a loss, he'd be an even bigger one if Tyler Boyd wasn't showing up like he has.

Throw in the fact that the Saints defence are rated as one of the weakest units in the league, and it all adds up to taking the home underdog at [1.91]. I'd still expect the Saint to win, but the points line is too much to turn down.

The Bengals defensive unit haven't been all that much better this season, so the over on the Total Points of 53.5 appeals too at [1.93].

If you are looking for a TD scorer bet I am struck by the 11/1 available on Drew Brees any time. Yes, on average he runs for about two scores per season, and already has those from his spin-move in the Falcons game, but the amount of running he is doing, his clever QB leaps over the lines on and-inches plays, and just the general rate the Saints have scored at this year make the price look tempting.

If you'd prefer a first TD, he's priced at a donkey-choking 80/1 there.

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