Key losses for South foes may spell trouble for N.O., Carolina

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 15, 2011

As a Saints fan, this Bucs game scares me for a few reasons.

I’m not going to pretend to know a ton about sports betting; I don’t do it, mostly because I don’t want my money riding on the whims and decisions of the likes of Matt Moore or Mark Sanchez in the two-minute drill. Having said that, I know enough to realize that when Las Vegas puts out a line, if it looks too good to be true … it usually is.

New Orleans at Tampa Bay (+4.5).

That looks too good to be true.

Tampa has looked below even mediocre, despite it’s winning record. That goes double for the last two weeks; a slim win over the hapless Colts on Monday night, followed by a 48-3 drubbing at San Francisco. The Saints, who most look at as being right in that elite tier with the Packers, Patriots, and maybe one or two others (Ravens, et, al), should be able to steamroll over a defense that has had all kinds of trouble and an offense that lacks weapons. The Buccaneers are also going to be without two of its stars in DT Gerald McCoy and RB LaGarrette Blount, both sidelined due to injury.

But there’s the rub …

Losing McCoy certainly hurts. But as far as Blount goes … it may be one of those rare cases when losing a talented player is addition by subtraction. Blount is the team’s best rusher, no question; he also, so far, looks like a poor fit with Josh Freeman, Tampa’s young, talented passer. Freeman’s great from the shotgun … his freewheeling from the no-huddle has him among elite company – all-time — in terms of fourth quarter comebacks.

Under center, it’s a different story. He’s not nearly as effective … but Blount isn’t really a great fit for a wide-open offense, either. He’s not a pass catcher … he’s the type of downhill runner that’s best suited for the I, or two-tight.

Without having to balance the two, I think Tampa’s going to let Freeman do what he does best for four quarters, and that could be bad news for the Black and Gold. The Saints have a much better team than Tampa, I have full confidence in that. But being on the road for a third straight week … facing a team that’s coming off of its worst performance … and also a team that was blown out in Tampa a year ago to these very Saints … I’d be shocked if New Orleans didn’t see Tampa’s absolute best shot this Sunday.

Most won’t think Tampa can win a shootout against this Saints team. To that, I offer any given Sunday; Cam Newton came close a week ago. I’ll say the Saints win a very close game … but pack your TUMS.

Across the division, everyone’s eyes will likely be on that Carolina at Atlanta matchup, where the popular pick seems to be the Panthers.

Again, I think we’re going to see a little addition by subtraction. Atlanta will be without Julio Jones. What I think that adds up to is that we’ll be seeing a ton of Michael Turner as the Falcons “close up” that wide open passing attack they’d been flashing, exploit a weak Panther run D, and win the turnover battle en route to a fairly strong win at home.

That, in my mind, will turn Atlanta back to the conservative style of play that helped them en route to their conference top-seed a year ago.

I don’t think it’ll be enough to put them in the playoffs. But I do think Atlanta may — rightfully — be second-guessing Matt Ryan as the type of quarterback who can captain an elite offense. To this point, he looks more like an elite-level game manager than anything. That’s good to have in the NFL … but while it can yield successful seasons in the right situations, it’s going to leave the Falcons far short of the Brees, Rodgers, Brady and Peyton Manning-led teams more often than not.