It’s been a rough start to the season for Adam Chernoff, but the season as ever is a long one and he’s bullish about his top play for week 3!
Remember when the Green Bay Packers were the top regression candidate for 2020?
Remember when the betting market was collectively smashing their win total, playoff props, futures and any season-long market under or not to happen?
That was…13 days ago.
It is fascinating how the perception of NFL teams can flip in no time flat.
In three different power ratings published on NFL Network, ESPN and Fox by prominent voices in the media (who I strongly disagree with) the Packers were listed second, third and third.
What on earth has happened!?
Well, the Packers are 2-0 and have scored 85 points in two games. They lead the league in offensive EPA per play, are fifth in success rate and Aaron Rodgers is playing 6% above expectation while ranking fifth in intended air yards per throw.
The offensive performance has been terrific. But how much has this been dictated by schedule?
In the opening week, the Packers faced a Vikings defense which started three first time cornerbacks and three of four new defensive linemen. The Minnesota defense which is an early contender for worst in the league all but validated their lack of talent by getting opened up for a second consecutive game last week at Indianapolis. Rodgers had a terrific game, but are we upgrading him and this Packers this much because of the performance against this opponent?
Last week the Packers faced a Lions defense that was without their top two cornerbacks in coverage and starting a rookie. Aaron Rodgers finished with a 107 rating, 240 yards and 2 TDs to 0 interceptions. For comparison sake, in the opening week, Mitch Trubisky against the same decimated Detroit secondary finished with a 105 rating, 242 yards, and 3TD’s to 0 interceptions. Again, Rodgers, the offensive line and Aaron Jones had a terrific game, but are we upgrading them and this Packers team this much because of the performance against this opponent?
Green Bay were never going to be a 4-12 team.
Nor are they going to be a 13-3 team again this season. But the pessimism was relative to their positioning in the market. The starting point for this team in 2020 was somewhere around 8-8. But in the viewpoint of the national media, that needle has shifted much closer to 13-3 this week.
In the betting market, they have moved from a look ahead last week at New Orleans -6, to a flat -3 – opened -2.5!
Nearly as significant of a movement relative to the perception.
But what does this offense look like when they go from playing mash units of the division rival Vikings and Lions to the Saints – one of the best defensive units in the NFC? What does Aaron Rodgers look like having to face one of the best defensive units in the NFC down St. Brown and with a limited (at best) Davante Adams? It sure won’t be 0.399 EPA per dropback and 0.235 per rush.
The kicker in all of this is just how much the offensive performance of the opening two weeks have disguised this defense. Despite the Packers leading the league in yards per drive, points, and EPA, they rank just eleventh in net yards per play.
The defense for the Packers has charted in at 20th in pass success rate defense, dead last in rush success rate defense and 27th in defensive DVOA. Lost in the two blowouts to begin the season too is the fact that the Packers trailed both the Vikings and Lions into the second quarter. The usually strong scripted offensive game plan advantage of Lafleur has been negated by the defensive inability to stop opponents.
What Of The Saints?
If you have been listening to the podcast since the beginning of last season, you will know that the Drew Brees arm strength issue is something I have highlighted in detail. This is not something new. But after consecutive struggles in high profile games (game of the week on FOX, MNF on ESPN) it is now garnering national attention in conjunction with the absence of Michael Thomas.
As much as the “struggle” is painted for the Saints offense, they enter Week 3 with a positive EPA. Down to down success has been limited as have explosive passes, but the team is still moving the ball with reasonable efficiency. However, if there is an opponent who the Saints – a team without their primary receiver and lack of passing depth – want to face, it is the Packers who cannot stop anyone on the ground to gain stability in their offensive attack.
On a more subjective level, I question how Sean Payton will adjust his play calling. The Saints outgained the Raiders by 2.5 yards per play (although 95 of their 425 output was empty yardage), but this is one of the best play designers and callers who has the option of Hill and a variety of playmakers to make something work in the passing game. Kamara is flying around the field and looks like the player we grew used to before an injury-riddled 2019.
I think there is a level of creativity within this Saints offense minus Thomas that has yet to be unveiled, and believe the Packers are the perfect opponent to explore that.
In summary, this is a huge step back into reality for the Packers against this Saints defense which is significantly better than both the Lions and the Vikings. The Saints get their easiest test of an opposing defense which has a big weakness against the strength/healthiest part of the Saints offense. I think it is fair to upgrade the Packers a tick and downgrade the Saints for the absence of Michael Thomas, but this price has gone too far.
If you got -2.5 early, terrific. But -3 is a great price on a game that should and could be Saints -4.5.
- New Orleans Saints -3 (-105 / 1.95). Risking 1.50x