Well I'm still in a foul mood from the Fins' unlikely melt down last week, and with law school exams approaching, there's nothing that could make me feel better than a nice stretch run here at BadNFL. So for the first time since my inaugural week 2, I'm taking an underdog. I know, my throngs of readers might think I'm crazy to pick against the undefeated Saints and their #1 ranked offense, so here are my reasons:
1. The Saints are due for a let down.
Everything about this game screams trap. As everyone in BadNFL Nation knows, New Orleans is coming off a emotional, statement win last week against the Pats on Monday Night Football. As a result, the media is now proclaiming them to have arrived, placing them unanimously at the top of power rankings, and proclaiming that Brees just played the best game in the history of the league. In other words, now seems like a perfect time for them to get complacent. History confirms this, as the Saints have a startling negative record ATS when they go out on the road after a big home win. Given the unique Katrina-infused emotion the Saints derive from their home crowd in the Superdome, and given the nearly perfect game they played last week, it's hard to see the Saints mustering up the emotion to play a team that most pundits wrote off a long time ago.
Two comparisons come to mind. One was this year, week 7: the Saints had just come off a statement win against the 5-0 (at the time) Giants, and they went out on the road to Miami. They proceeded to fall behind Miami 24-3 before mounting a furious comeback and ultimately winning by 12. True, this might not bode well for my pick, as a similar 12-point victory here would cover the spread. But for a number of reasons, I think this game is different. For one, the week 6 victory over the Giants simply cannot compare to the primetime domination over Belichick and Brady last week. Second, as those of you unfortunately enough to watch Miami/Buffalo last week can attest to, Miami is a truly horrendous 4th quarter team, and I frankly expect the Skins to play better. However, what won't change is the Saints' lackluster initial effort in this game.
The other example is a more salient one: in week 14 of 2006, the Brees/Peyton-led Saints played the Cowboys with first place in the NFC at stake, and the Saints totally demolished them on national TV. The next week, the NFC Championship Game-bound Saints lost to the 5-11 Redskins. While this Saints team is certainly better than that one, the exact same dynamics were at work: a letdown against a bad but tough Redskins team, after an emotional victory. While I'm not saying the Redskins will win this game, I do think the Saints' inevitable let down will keep it close enough for the Redskins to cover.
2. The Redskins match-up pretty well in this game.
Sharps love the Redskins, because they play solid defense. Their pass defense is particularly effective, good for tops in the league. Brees historically struggles against the Redskins, as his QB rating of 53.5 in his 3 career games against them is his lowest against any opponent. In addition, the Saints have lost 10 of their last 13 against the Redskins. This match-up just doesn't appear to be good for Brees and the Saints.
Finally, the weather in this game is an important factor. In his career, Brees is 0-5 with a passer rating below 80 in games that kickoff in temperatures of below 45 degrees. And you guessed it, the weather is projected to be below 45 this weekend, with the accumulation of over an inch of snow tonight. Given those conditions, I think the Redskins' solid pass defense will shut down Brees and the Saints' aerial attack.
Finally, the Redskins get Albert Haynesworth back this week. I think he'll do wonders to boost their pass rush and help stop up the middle. Given that the Redskins' offense has been improving lately, and that the Saints have a real possibility of letting down, this game should be close.
THE COUNTER-ARGUMENT: GREGG WILLIAMS WILL FIRE UP THE SAINTS?
Apparently, Saints DC Gregg Williams has a huge grudge against the Redskins stemming back from his time as DC there, and as such, will motivate the Saints to blow out the Redskins. Whatever. This is the type of speculation that it's very difficult to evaluate. Ultimately, every sign points to this being a trap game, and I don't think one assistant coach's pissing match with Redskins ownership will change that.
The real counter-argument is obviously that the Saints have the most explosive offense in the league and are much much better than the Redskins. That's true, and there's obviously a risk that the Saints, even if they play this close most of the way, open up a big enough lead at the very end to cover the spread. But talent alone does not win football games. The Saints are undoubtedly much better, but I don't love their match-up and they're due for a letdown. The Skins are getting a lot of points, and while I have been waiting for it to push up to +10 all week (and would obviously like it better there), +9.5 is still enough for me. Washington covers.