- Drew Brees completed just 44% of passes in his Week 15 return, his lowest single-game completion percentage since 2006
Minnesota heads to New Orleans to kick off Week 16 on Christmas Day in a game that could go a few different ways. The Saints struggled in Drew Brees’ Week 15 return, with Brees completing just 44% of passes against Kansas City’s tough press man defense, the lowest single-game completion percentage Brees has posted since his first season in New Orleans in 2006. With Michael Thomas out again for Week 16, and secondary receiver Tre’Quan Smith also likely to miss after leaving Week 15 early, it will be interesting to see if the Vikings employ a similar strategy and force New Orleans’ depleted wide receiver corps to win against man coverage.
At 41 years of age, Brees has clearly not been at his physical peak for much of the year, looking at times like he doesn’t have the requisite arm strength to push the ball down the field. He did find Emmanuel Sanders on a deep shot in Week 15 for a 51-yard completion, one yard shy of his season long, but his accuracy may be more of a concern. Quarterbacks can beat zone coverage schemes largely through mental processing, identifying the correct receiver options by throwing away from defenders as much as to a teammate. That leaves some margin for error that wasn’t there in Week 15 against heavy man looks, because beating man coverage is more about either receivers winning on routes and creating separation (which the Saints’ backup receiving corps struggled to do) or a quarterback making precise throws (which Brees used to be a master of, but also struggled with last week).
The concern then is Kansas City laid out the blueprint for how to attack the current Saints offense. It’s a copycat league, and it won’t be a surprise to see Mike Zimmer employ a lot of what he saw from Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to attack the Saints. One major problem, though, is the Vikings can’t stop the run. Minnesota ranks 31st in success rate against on the ground, so the pivot for New Orleans might be to rely more on Latavius Murray alongside Alvin Kamara in a run-heavy scheme to move the ball and hopefully set up some advantageous passing opportunities off of that.
Minnesota’s defense is also very banged up, with several key pieces either not practicing this week or getting in limited sessions. We know the Vikings are happy to play a slower pace and rely on Dalvin Cook offensively, and they may be more incentivized to do that to try to protect their defense. Minnesota has ranked highly all season in explosive play rate both in the running game with Cook and through the air with rookie Justin Jefferson making big play after big play, but the Saints have tended to be pretty solid at not allowing big plays. This feels like a game where both offenses could struggle to generate explosive plays and will feel out ways to move the ball, potentially both utilizing a run-first attack that keeps the clock running and shortens games.
The Saints are favored by a touchdown at most books, and after their offense really struggled in Brees’ return last week, I lean Minnesota’s way on the spread. But the bet I like more here is the under with the total up over 50. I’m sure we’ll see some points in this dome environment, but that’s a high number to hit if this game plays slow for any stretch.
NFL Expert Picks
1u - Under 52.5 @ -108
NFL Free Picks
It's a festive week and we have plenty of football to get stuck into. There's no Thursday Night Football this week but we have the Vikings travel to New Orleans to face the Saints on Christmas Day. Saturday gives us a triple threat of football to wager on. The Bucs can secure playoffs if they beat the Lions. Elsewhere the Dolphins face the Raiders and the 49ers play the Cardinals.
Sunday sees a number of matches with playoff implications, the Rams @ Seahawks being the most important. We'll also see the Jets and Jaguars play, with fans of the New Yorkers praying that Jacksonville wins and puts them back in the hotseat for Trevor Lawrence. The Titans face the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football. Monday's game is a dead rubber in all reality, as the Bills travel to play the Patriots, with New England officially out of playoff contention.
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