Sunday Night Football Betting Preview: Will the Saints and Packers Turn to Their Running Backs?
Two all-time great quarterbacks face off as the Green Bay Packers head down south to face the New Orleans Saints on Sunday Night Football. Through two weeks, Aaron Rodgers has played at an MVP level, while Drew Brees' arm strength has come into question after two up-and-down performances. While the betting public has certainly taken notice, it appears that the oddsmakers aren't ready to give up on Brees and the Saints.
Despite Brees' struggles last week against the Las Vegas Raiders, New Orleans is still favored in this one by 3.0 points on FanDuel Sportsbook. But with 87% of the bets and 81% of the money backing the Packers' side of the spread, according to our oddsFire betting tool, bettors are obviously riding the arm of Rodgers for another week. The moneyline has an interesting breakdown, as 91% of the bets are taking Green Bay at +138 while just 68% of the money is on their side, implying that there is some bigger action on the Saints at -161. With a point total set at 52.5, 88% of both the bets and money are chasing the over.
At first glance this feels like a trap, as the Packers look like a no-doubt play. When that's the case, the house always seems to come out on top. Do the Saints have a better game up their sleeve, or should we not overcomplicate things and bet the superior quarterback in Rodgers? Let's check our projections for the answer.
Passing Game Preview
No matter how you look at this Packers offense, they've been elite through two games. Producing 0.48 Adjusted Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back in 2020, Rodgers and the Packers' passing game ranks second in the league.
They could be missing a key cog in the receiving corps, however, as Davante Adams is looking doubtful to play on Sunday night. He's been Rodgers' volume receiver, catching 17 of 20 targets for 0.91 Reception NEP per target. No other Packers wide receiver has more than seven receptions, so there will be a major void here if Adams sits.
Allen Lazard has been excellent on his nine targets, catching seven for a team-leading 1.58 Reception NEP per target. Marquez Valdes-Scantling has made efficient work of his targets, turning 13 of them into 1.24 Reception NEP per target. While the results have been good, however, neither will have the trust of Rodgers that Adams has. Rodgers will do doubt look to involve the running backs more, as Aaron Jones ranks second on the team in receptions and targets, though his 0.54 Reception NEP per target is a step back from the receivers. Expect the passing game to be much less dynamic unless Rodgers fully embraces Lazard and Valdes-Scantling this week.
On the other side of the ball, the Saints rank 15th in passing defense through two games, allowing 0.14 Adjusted Defensive Passive NEP per drop back through matchups with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Las Vegas Raiders. Most of the damage came at the hands of the Raiders last week, especially from Darren Waller, who exploited this defense to the tune of 12 receptions for 105 yards and a touchdown. However, the Packers don't appear to have anyone capable of filling that Waller role, and Marshon Lattimore should be able to handle his assignment in this matchup if Adams is out.
This looks like a better matchup for the Saints' defense, and they showed they are talented in their Week 1 performance against the Bucs, when they held Tom Brady to 239 yards passing and picked him off twice.
New Orleans brings in the 13th-ranked passing offense at 0.21 Adjusted Passing NEP per drop back in 2020, a step back from what we are used to from a Brees offense. With Michael Thomas lost to a high ankle sprain, running back Alvin Kamara has become the number-one option, catching 14 of his 17 targets. As good as Kamara is, however, the Saints are lacking an explosive downfield target, as Kamara's 0.46 Reception NEP per target is much lower than that of a true wide receiver.
Jared Cook has been the second-most targeted player, catching seven of 12 targets, but he disappeared last week, catching just two passes for 13 yards and a touchdown. Tre'Quan Smith provides the most hope as Brees tries to function without Thomas. Smith has produced 0.98 Reception NEP per target on eight targets this year, and he looked like their most explosive option last week as Emmanuel Sanders disappointed for the second straight week. Smith turned seven targets into 86 yards against the Raiders, and Brees desperately needs to get him the ball downfield to provide a spark for this offense.
Green Bay has a middling 14th-ranked passing defense so far, allowing 0.12 Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per drop back in 2020. They allowed Kirk Cousins to rally late in Week 1 and put up 34 points, while last week they held Matthew Stafford to 244 yards passing and sacked him 4 times. Most of Stafford's success was from passes to D'Andre Swift and T.J. Hockenson, who combined to catch all of their nine targets for 122 receiving yards. That is an encouraging sign for a Saints offense that will likely rely on Cook and Kamara to take on key roles.
Rushing Game Preview
The Packers' rushing attack ranks second in the league, racking up 0.30 Adjusted Rushing NEP per carry this year. Jones leads the way with 0.31 Rushing NEP per attempt on 34 carries, and he has looked dynamic with the ball in his hands. Jamaal Williams has been second in the rotation with 15 carries and will play some passing downs, but Jones is the true star here.
With Adams out, expect Jones to be relied on even more as Green Bay tries to survive with depleted passing game depth that they failed to address in the offseason. It's worth noting that Jones did rack up 168 yards rushing against what is a lousy Detroit Lions run defense, but this is still a good ground game that can carry the load this week if needed, although the matchup is a tough one
The Saints' defensive strength thus far has been their run defense, allowing -0.04 Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per carry through two weeks. They did a solid job of bottling up Josh Jacobs last week as the Raiders attempted to force feed him the ball, holding Jacobs to 88 yards on 27 carries, though they did let Jalen Richard spring a 20-yard touchdown late. Stopping the run will no doubt be a priority again this week even with Rodgers under center, so whether or not the Saints can slow down Jones while also keeping Rodgers in check will be something to watch.
New Orleans' running game ranks a dismal 25th in the league, producing -0.03 Adjusted Rushing NEP per carry in 2020. A matchup against the tough Bucs run defense in Week 1 probably doesn't help, but you would have liked to see the Saints get more going in Week 2 against the Raiders. Kamara has produced just 0.00 Rushing NEP per carry so far on 25 attempts, and if that continues to be the case, they will be better off turning more of those carries into targets in the passing game.
Latavius Murray has actually been the best New Orleans rusher so far with 0.04 Rushing NEP per carry on 18 attempts. This team may be at a bit of a crossroads with Brees declining in the passing game, and if they can't be more successful on the ground, there could be trouble ahead.
The Packers once again are struggling to defend the run, ranking last in the league with 0.34 Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per carry. This is a continuation from last year, so this is a real issue, not a small-sample fluke. The Saints will likely try to exploit this early as they try to take pressure off Brees, so we may see a ton of Kamara and Murray from the opening snap.
Of the 10 most comparable games to this matchup, the favorite has won six of 10 times, while the underdog has covered six of 10 times.
The clearest trend comes from the over/under, where the under has hit seven of 10 times, including all three of the closest matches. Coupled with some injuries to star receivers as well as the crowd piling on to bet the over, taking the under on Sunday night feels like a smart move.
Game Projections and Props
Our algorithm gives the Saints a 63% chance of winning outright, giving New Orleans a very slim 1.5% return on investment (ROI) that probably isn't worth your time. We also see the spread as being right on point, and we project a negative ROI on both sides of the bet.
We do see the over/under as an opportunity to strike, however, as we project a very nice 17.8% ROI on the under. Betting the under checks a couple boxes, as injuries to Adams and Thomas could hamper these offenses, while the historical trends favor the under, as well.
Let's look for some player props that could support a lower-than-expected score in this one.
For prop bets on FanDuel Sportsbook, I like the over on Tre'Quan Smith receiving yards (45.5) as he appears to be emerging as the most promising target with Michael Thomas out. Alvin Kamara over 68.5 rushing yards would also be appealing with the struggles of the Packers' defense in stopping the run. But in a game I expect to hit the under, it is hard to find too many prop bets that are appealing. The under on Drew Brees passing yards (273.5) would fit well with a run-heavy game script as the Saints lean on their defense at home.