The New Orleans Saints look like a team that has gotten its swagger back, with a 3-0 start for coach Sean Payton, who is back in the saddle. On Monday night the Saints are going to be taking on one of the NFL’s other unbeaten teams, the Miami Dolphins, in action that is set to begin at 8:40 PM ET at the Superdome in the Crescent City.
Even though the teams come into this game with the same record, there is quite a bit of difference between the two quarterbacks in terms of experience.
In the NFL betting odds that have been established on this game by the people at Bovada, the Saints are the decisive favorites in this showdown:
New Orleans Saints -7
Miami Dolphins +7
Here is the NFL over/under on this contest:
Over 48 Points -110
Under 48 Points -110
Drew Brees hasn’t blasted down doors, but the former Super Bowl MVP and yardage record-holder is spreading the ball around quite well. Brees has completed about 64% of his passes, and his leading receiver thus far has been tight tend Jimmy Graham, familiar to Miami-area audiences as a former member of the Hurricanes, who has registered 358 yards and four TD’s already.
Marques Colston has averaged over fourteen yards on his 14 catches, and Brees has made use of the backfield, with Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas combining for 30 receptions. You might say that the running backs have been more effective with these “extended handoffs” than they have been running the ball, as New Orleans (priced at -280 on the money line at Bovada) is logging only 3.5 yards per carry.
This game may carry some emotional weigh tfor Brees because it was the Dolphins who turned him down on his physical after his release from San Diego, which eventuallyled to him signing with New Orleans and winning a Super Bowl title.
What has been just as important to the Saints’ success as the leadership of Brees has been the play of the defense, which seems to have found its groove under first-year coordinator Rob Ryan (twin brother of Rex). He’s got a variation of his father Buddy’s 46 defense, where he attacks the opposing passing attack and tries to half the rush on the way to the quarterback. They’ve gotten after good offenses and bad so far, yielding just 296 yards a game through three contests. What must be considered is that this team allowed more yardage last season than any team in the history of the NFL. Then you can imagine why they are talking about this year’s effort like it’s night and day.
Ryan Tannehill of the Dolphins has been sacked 14 times, so he may be susceptible to the kind of pressure Ryan can exert with his stop unit. But there is no question that the second-year signal-caller from Texas A&M is maturing and getting more comfortable under center. Like last year, he has found Brian Hartline to be his favorite target, and Hartline has 18 catches for 238 yards. Mike Wallace exceeded the 100-yard mark in Week 2 against Indianapolis, but has not been a big factor otherwise. Brandon Gibson, who was in St. Louis last year, has been a nice complement to all this (14 catches, 137 yards) but the pleasant surprise has been Charles Clay, the third-year tight end out of Tulsa. With Dustin Keller having been taken out for the year during the pre-season, Clay has filled the void at the position, and he’s averaging 14.5 yards on his 14 receptions, en route to eclipsing the numbers he has put together in either of his first two NFL seasons.
The ongoing challenge to establish a running game is not so much different as it is for the Saints. No one knows yet whether Lamar Miller is going to play with any consistency from week to week, but the fact that we really don’t know yet may constitute some inconsistency in and of itself.
Both of these teams have had a decided advantage over their opponents in third down situations. The Dolphins (+275 to win the AFC East at Bovada) have converted 50% of the time, and have held foes to just 32.5%, while the Saints have been successful on 45% of occasions, while opponents have made good only 35% of the time.
Are the Dolphins a fluke? Will they roll over and play dead sooner or later? Well, we can’t quite answer that one definitively, and we certainly acknowledge that the Saints have won eleven in a row at the Superdome (covering all of them against the NFL betting odds).
But we can say that two of Miami’s three wins are against teams that made the playoffs last season and stand a good chance of doing so again during this campaign (Indianapolis and Atlanta). So a struggle for New Orleans wouldn’t be altogether shocking.