Saints take offBy RICK CLEVELAND,
Regular readers might remember this. Back in August, back when sports betting first became legal in Mississippi, your dutiful reporter went down to the Gulf Coast to write about it.
I ventured into the Beau Rivage in Biloxi, looked around, interviewed some workers and some gamblers, gathered up all the betting odds sheets for all sports and started to parse through them.
One number stuck out to me: The odds on the New Orleans Saints winning the Super Bowl were 15 to 1. That seemed high. The defending champion Philadelphia Eagles were 8 to 1. The New England Patriots were 10 to 1. The Minnesota Vikings were 13 to 1. The Saints, I thought, had as good a chance as any team in the league to win it all. They were playing as well as anyone at the end of the 2017 season. They made shrewd off-season moves, I thought. Oh yes, and they still had Drew Brees.
So I made my first legal bet in Mississippi: $100 on the Saints to win the second Super Bowl in the 52-year history of the franchise. If the Saints win the Super Bowl, I win $1,500. Call it participatory journalism. What’s more, I talked two of my friends into doing the same.
And then, of course, the season opened five weeks later and the Saints were beaten at home by the lowly Tampa Bay Bucs, playing with their second team quarterback.
The preseason odds on Tampa Bay winning the Super Bowl? The Bucs were 200-to-1, worst in the league. I don’t know what the odds were on the Bucs winning the Super Bowl with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback. I know I can’t count that high.
The Saints looked little better the second week when they narrowly escaped the Cleveland Browns, who had lost 18 straight games coming in. To say that my Super Bowl bet wasn’t looking good is an understatement of epic proportions.
Said one of my betting friends: “You know we could have taken that money and wined and dined Galatoire’s.”
He had a point I could not argue.
And then, well, you know what has happened. The Saints have taken off like a supersonic jet. They reeled off victories over the Falcons, the Giants, the Redskins, the Ravens, the Vikings, the Rams, the Bengals, the defending champion Eagles (48-7) and then the Falcons again. They took a night off in Dallas before bouncing back Sunday with a 28-14 road win over the Bucs, who have back their starting quarterback.
The Saints, 11-2, have clinched the South Division with three games remaining – two against the Carolina Panthers sandwiched around a home game with the Steelers. Should the Saints win their final three games – no easy chore – they will have homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.
That is huge. No NFL team has more decided home advantage than the Saints in the noise factory known as the Superdome.
In short, I like my first legal bet. Let’s put it like this: I wouldn’t sell my $100 ticket for $500 now.
The Saints rank No. 1 in most NFL power rankings. The Saints rank No. 2 in the league in scoring offense at 34.4 points per game, just behind Kansas City. They rank No 10 in scoring defense, giving up 21 a game. Look more closely and you’ll see the Saints have allowed only 13 points per game over their last five against normally productive offenses. Currently, the Saints are playing as well as any team in the league defensively.
Just my opinion: All that offense and defense is complemented by the NFL’s best punter Thomas Morstead, who has punted only 31 times in 13 games. He is like the Maytag repairman, ready if needed but rarely needed. Field goal kicker Will Lutz has been money: 25 for 26. Saints special teams are special.
Also, the Saints have been playing lately without starting left tackle Terron Armstead, who might be the best in the league. He’s expected back this week. Things are looking good for the Saints – almost too good.
Rick Cleveland (email@example.com) is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist.