Sunday Night NFL

DREW BREES AND PEYTON MANNING BATTLE AGAIN IN HIGH STAKES NFL SHOWDOWN

It's not exactly a replay of a recent NFL Super Bowl, because Peyton Manning now plays for the Denver Broncos. But, Sunday Night's meeting on NBC between Manning and Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints is certainly a high stakes showdown that both teams will treat as if it were a playoff game.

  • New Orleans is 2-4 entering the weekend, with no margin for error at all in terms of the playoff race in the tough NFC. Falling to 2-5 might virtually end playoff hopes already because the rest of the schedule features two games with Atlanta, and one apiece vs. San Francisco, the NY Giants, Philadelphia, and Dallas. That's six toughies ahead, and you can't assume that divisional rematches with Carolina and Tampa Bay are automatic wins. New Orleans doesn't want to play spoiler in the second half of the season in a bunch of shootouts. They still want revenge against the commissioner for ruining their season! 

  • Denver is in better shape simply because they play in such a bad division. The Broncos are 3-3 with divisional wins already over Oakland and San Diego. They'd still be a favorite in the woeful AFC West if they fell to 3-4! Denver will be favored in at least seven of its last 10 games counting Sunday Night, with a couple of other road games probably near pick-em. This is Denver's division to win. Which, would be even easier from a 4-3 start! And, at 4-3, Denver can start thinking about the chase for the likely #2 seed behind Houston in a conference that's still wide-open in terms of postseason seeding.

At first glance, this is looking like it might be one of the most entertaining games of the year. Let's see what our indicator data has to say...

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS at DENVER BRONCOS (8:20 p.m. on NBC)
Las Vegas Spread: Denver by 6, total of 55

Denver is getting a lot of respect in that line. Home field advantage is worth three points by itself (though sometimes altitude inspires a little extra boost from oddsmakers). It would seem that Denver is also getting a boost from coming in off a bye. Many sharps are having success betting bye teams in the right spots this year. Oddsmakers were guarding against that money with an opening number near a touchdown. That high total of 55 sure catches the eye. Some old school sharps bet Unders at any number in the 50's. This one hasn't moved from the mid 50's, suggesting the math guys think it's justified. Note that New Orleans games this year have landed on 72, 62, 51, 55, 55, and 63 points. 

WON-LOST RECORDS (scheduled strength according to USA Today)
New Orleans: 2-4 (25th ranked schedule)
Denver: 3-3 (9th ranked schedule)

This may be providing additional energy to the spread differential. New Orleans has a bad record despite playing a soft schedule. Denver would grade out as a playoff team if they had played a league average schedule. That's probably the most important thing to remember about New Orleans. The only good team they've played is Green Bay...and the Packers weren't exactly on fire back when that happened. It's easy to see the glass half full for the Saints given recent wins over San Diego and Tampa Bay. It's not that hard right now to beat San Diego and Tampa Bay! Denver's losses are to Houston, New England, and Atlanta. And, they beat San Diego bigger on the road than New Orleans beat San Diego at home.

TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL
New Orleans: even
Denver: -3

One of the hallmarks of Manning's years in Indy is that he made great decisions that led to good turnover differentials. You can see some "adjustment" pains in that differential. Though part of the problem has been special teams rather than anything Manning was doing wrong (remember the bad first half in SD?). New Orleans is at its most dangerous when its defense is taking the ball away from desperate opponents who are trying to keep up with Brees. They only have eight takeaways this year in six games against a weak schedule. Another red flag for Saints fans. This team MUST get takeaways to be playoff caliber.

OFFENSIVE STATS
New Orleans: 411.3 yards-per-game on 6.1 yards-per-play
Denver: 384.7 yards-per-game on 5.9 yards-per-play

Big numbers from both teams, which isn't a surprise considering their quarterbacks. This certainly justifies the high Vegas total. Be aware though that both of these guys can run clock while moving the chains in a way that shortens the game. They have drive efficiency in games that land in the mid 50's...which reduces the potential for a 42-38 type shootout that flies way past the number.

DEFENSIVE STATS
New Orleans: 465.5 yards-per-game on 6.6 yards-per-play
Denver: 330.5 yards-per-game on 4.8 yards-per-play

This is what separates the contender from the pretender. Denver's defense has been terrific on a per-play basis even while facing a tough schedule. New Orleans has been absolutely horrible in all facets of defense despite playing a weak schedule. The opening Vegas line wasn't disrespecting Brees. It was disrespecting that has posted horrible numbers despite playing what is mostly a string of struggling offenses. What might Manning do? What might Manning do if the Saints defenders get tired at altitude?!

MOST RECENT BOXES

NEW ORLEANS 35, TAMPA BAY 21
Total Yardage: New Orleans 458, Tampa Bay 513
Rushing Yards: New Orleans 81, Tampa Bay 98
Passing Stats: New Orleans 27-37-1-377, Tampa Bay 24-42-0-415
Turnovers: New Orleans 1, Tampa Bay 0
Third Downs: New Orleans 60%, Tampa Bay 33%
Vegas Line: New Orleans by 1, total of 49

Here's a great example of what we mean. Tampa Bay has been inconsistent on offense this year...yet the Bucs passed for over 400 yards on the way to 513 yards of total offense. And, they did that without committing a turnover! This week, you're replacing Freeman with Manning, and the rest of the Bucs offense with the rest of the Broncos offense. Brees will have to have a huge game if New Orleans is hoping to spring an upset. Possibly bigger than 27-37-1-377.

(Denver had a bye last week, this is their most recent boxscore)
DENVER 35, SAN DIEGO 24
Total Yardage: Denver 366, San Diego 308
Rushing Yards: Denver 57, San Diego 90
Passing Stats: Denver 24-30-1-309, San Diego 25-41-4-218
Turnovers: Denver 3, San Diego 6
Third Downs: Denver 25%, San Diego 40%
Vegas Line: San Diego by 1, total of 48

Not exactly a great ad for AFC West football with those nine turnovers. But, Denver did establish its superiority over their most serious threat for the division crown. And, they did that on the ROAD, which is certainly meaningful. Both Denver and New Orleans have played San Diego within their last two games. Denver had the better head-to-head numbers even though they were a visitor and New Orleans was a host.

BEST EXPECTATION
This one gets complicated. If you were only looking at the raw numbers...then factoring in a bye and altitude, you could probably make a case for Denver winning by double digits. They are likely to light up the scoreboard, and could really explode if the Saints defense shows signs of fatigue a mile high the week after winning a divisional shootout. On the other hand, the NFC has dominated the AFC this year straight up and against the spread. Should an NFC team with a Hall-of-Fame quarterback be getting this many points? Even if they don't get the job done clean, they can come through the back door in the final minutes.

JIM HURLEY has been focused on his computer simulations this week because how this game "plays out" is very likely going to determine the value side. It's not simply a matter of looking at Power Ratings or the simplest math projections. What will the margin be entering the fourth quarter? Who's going to have the ball last? Will it even matter who has the ball last?

That's why his state-of-the-art software is so vital in the NFL...where proper handicapping really does come down to possession-by-possession analysis. You can rest assured that a posted play in this game will have passed muster from every different angle. If you see on the home page or on the "Buy Picks" page that NETWORK has a major release in New Orleans-Denver, or has included it in a TV Parlay...be ready to step in and do some business!

Link up with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK Sunday morning for the best bets from the NFL schedule and from Game Four in the World Series from Detroit. If you have any questions, call our office at 1-800-323-4453. Be sure to ask about NBA basketball that starts in a few days!

Back with tomorrow to crunch the numbers in the Arizona/San Francisco game from the NFC West. Don't make a move in Monday Night NFL or any other big pro football game until you hear what JIM HURLEY has to say!

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