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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, January 3, 2014 at 7:00 PM

Who do YOU want to bet on in Saturday Night’s NFL Wildcard game matching the New Orleans Saints and the Philadelphia Eagles? Do you want to take a road team that’s been absolutely horrible on the road all season long? Or, do you want to lay points with a first year head coach and first year quarterback who barely got post Kyle Orton and the poor Dallas Cowboys defense in a high pressure game last week?

You can’t take either team!

Well, every game has a winner. It’s our job as handicappers to find the right way to play the possibilities. Let’s run the game through our gauntlet of indicators to see if we can find the least worst option.

 

Won-Lost Records (strength of schedule)

New Orleans: 11-5 (#8 schedule in USA Today)

Philadelphia: 11-5 (#28 schedule in USA today)

Both teams had the same record. But, you can see above that the Eagles played one of the easiest schedules in the league. The main reason this line hasn’t moved up from its opener of -2.5 is that the Wise Guys don’t think Philadelphia has proven themselves as a legitimate playoff caliber team. They rallied late against a soft schedule. In fact, the only playoff team they beat all season was Green Bay, and that’s when Aaron Rodgers was out with an injury. You longtime readers know that strength of schedule has always been a great indicator for playoff success here in the NOTEBOOK, particularly when it’s the underdog that’s more battle tested.

 

Yards-Per Play

New Orleans: 5.9 on offense, 5.2 on defense

Philadelphia: 6.3 on offense, 5.5 on defense

This is very close, with the Eagles doing fractionally better against a much easier schedule. Again, the Saints get the nod after you adjust for schedule strength. And, if you’re the type that likes betting on defensive dogs…the Saints have the better per-play defense and are getting points.

 

Turnover Differential

New Orleans: even

Philadelphia: +12

This is where Philadelphia might be able to take a step forward. The spread offense is typically a low-risk offense because there’s a receiving option in open space somewhere. Even though Philadelphia is inexperienced, they’re still the less likely of the two teams to turn the ball over. Plus, part of New Orleans problem on the road this year is that they can’t get takeaways and become too turnover prone if they have to pass. It’s dicey to handicap a game based only on this fickle category. But, turnovers are game-changing in the playoffs. The Eagles are likely to get the best of it in this category unless inexperience dooms quarterback Nick Foles to mistakes he hasn’t been making to date.

 

Market Performance

New Orleans: 8-8 ATS

Philadelphia: 8-8 ATS

Both of those are deceiving. New Orleans has been covering spreads at home, but not on the road. Philadelphia was a poor cover team in games Michael Vick started, but has been cashing in games started by Nick Foles. Let’s tweak that category for this special dynamic.

 

Possibly More Relevant Market Performance

New Orleans: 1-7 ATS on the road

Philadelphia: 6-4 ATS in games started by Nick Foles

There you go. Do you want to take just +2.5 with a dog that’s 1-7 ATS on the road? Well, we’re back to where we started. Because taking the home favorite means betting on an untested QB and head coach playing the most important games of their NFL lives so far.

 

Current Line: Philadelphia by 2.5, total 53.5

 

It may be good news for Saints fans that the one game the team did cover away from home was at Chicago. That’s a tough place to win…and the veteran savvy of Drew Brees did pay off. They also should have won at New England but fell victim to a late rally from Tom Brady. Foles isn’t Brady (yet). Brees and head coach Sean Payton have won a Super Bowl. That experience could well be the difference late in a close game.

JIM HURLEY knows this one’s a toughie. He’s been working very closely with his on-site sources, his stat handicappers, his computer programmers, and his Wise Guy connections to make sure NETWORK clients get the right play! You can purchase the final word for Saturday (this game, Kansas City/Indianapolis, and the BBVA Compass Bowl featuring Houston and Vanderbilt) right here at the website with your credit card Saturday morning.

If you have any questions, or you’d like to talk to a live person about “rest of football” options and value-priced seasonal basketball packages, call our handicapping office at 1-888-777-4155 during normal business hours Saturday or Sunday before the start of the first games.

Back with you tomorrow to run the numbers for San Francisco/Green Bay, the later of the two Sunday starts. Then, Sunday Night we’ll run the BCS Championship featuring Florida State and Auburn through our stat gauntlet. These next few days more than ever…don’t you dare make a move until YOU HEAR WHAT JIM HURLEY HAS TO SAY!

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