This Sunday many fans will be tuning in to watch the much anticipated debut of Robert Griffin III. Other fans will be focusing on how the New Orleans Saints will respond to an offseason filled with turmoil.
Some simply hope their fantasy players score enough points to win their weekly matchup. But there is another group of fans who have an entirely different objective: beat the NFL point spread.
Let's take a closer look at the numbers and see what the options are.
Way back in the offseason, many sportsbooks opened the New Orleans Saints as 9.5-point favorites, but after a full preseason to see how these teams look, the markets have shifted. The result is a +2.5 point-line move in favor of the Washington Redskins and now the Saints are only favored by a touchdown (odds courtesy of SBRforum).
This creates a choice for people looking to pick the home team: Do you lay the points and hope Drew Brees can lead them to a double-digit victory or do you put your faith in RG3 and go with the underdog?
Instead of losing sleep over that, I suggest pairing them with another team on the schedule in a two-team, six-point teaser. This drops the point spread down to -1 and significantly increases your chances to win.
Whenever there is a significant line move against your pick, you must be sure of the advantages on your side. In this game, I see three clear reasons to back the Saints.
For the most part, I grade home-field advantage a bit lower earlier in the year, but there are exceptions. The Saints have arguably the best home-field advantage in the NFL. It should be amplified on Sunday because it's the home opener, they enter the season with a chip on their shoulder and replacement referees should favor heavy-passing teams at home.
Pick Your Poison
The Redskins front seven is pretty solid, especially at linebacker. The questions surround the secondary.
Jim Haslett is a high-stakes gambler and guys like DeAngelo Hall and Cedric Griffin can be high risk, high reward. Hall was burned repeatedly last year and single-handedly cost them a couple games. Cedric Griffin is a better zone player, which is something Drew Brees can pick apart.
I fully expect Brees to take advantage of this group given the ridiculous set of weapons at his disposal. Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas are as good as any backfield in the league, and Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham, Devery Henderson and Lance Moore can hurt you from anywhere on the field.
Haslett would be wise to tone down his aggressive scheme against these guys. Still, it's not a question of how to stop them but if they can contain them.
Welcome to the NFL Rookie
RG3 opened some eyes with his impressive touchdown scoring drive in Week 1 of the preseason, but he followed it up with some very uneven play in the subsequent games. The good news for him is he won't be facing the New York Giants version of Steve Spagnuolo's defense. The Saints simply don't have the personnel to rush four and leave seven in zone coverage.
Complicating matters is the health of the starters. Curtis Lofton and Jabari Greer are on pace to play, but both have injuries that tend to linger: high-ankle sprain and a groin. David Hawthorne might play too, but he's more on the questionable side.
The bad news for RG3 is the fact that Coach Spags is bringing a significantly more balanced and shrewd scheme to the table. In previous seasons, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams deployed a much more aggressive approach that put too much pressure on the cornerbacks.
Instead, Spags will pick his spots where to blitz, which will leave RG3 throwing into zone coverages. I don't think the receiving options are good enough to bail the rookie out and it's a tough assignment to take on in your first career NFL start.
Compounding the problem for RG3 is the very real possibility that the Saints carry a lead into the second half. This is where a coach like Spags excels. You can expect to see a lot of confusing looks and pressure coming from unorthodox places which could have RG3 forcing balls in all the wrong places.
Any Given Sunday?
I realize this is the NFL, a new season and anything can happen, but let's get real here. The Washington Redskins are going to need a long list of improbable events to happen for them to pull off the upset. Given everything stacked against them, that's something I'm willing to bet against.