Before the first preseason game was played last August, the two teams we thought had the best chance to meet in Super Bowl LIV were the two teams that just missed playing for the Vince Lombardi Trophy last season, the Kansas City Chiefs and New Orleans Saints. The Chiefs might have missed a trip to the Super Bowl based on a coin flip that gave the ball to the eventual Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots to start overtime in the AFC Championship Game.
Tom Brady and his merry mates turned the coin toss into a winning touchdown drive.
In New Orleans, on the same afternoon, the officials played way too much of a role on who advanced out of the National Football Conference. A missed pass interference call proved paramount in the Los Angeles Rams advancing and the Saints losing on their home field. On a rare day indeed, both visiting teams won their conference championship games.
Which brings us to now.
Last night, Kansas City Quarterback Patrick Mahomes limped off the field for a third straight game, and this time he did not return. Without their offensive leader on the field, the Chiefs did two two things particularly well; they played defense to a level that outscored the Broncos offense, and ran an error free offense with 12-year veteran Matt Moore in place of Mahomes. The good news this morning, is that Mahomes did suffer a kneecap dislocation, but no other serious damage and should be back for the Chiefs in three weeks.
What we saw last night from Kansas City, in their 30-6 victory over the Denver Broncos, is how a team responds to the loss of a starting quarterback. Good teams will commonly see every player and unit on the team step up their game. It is not unlike what the Saints have been doing for more than a month.
The Saints chances of returning to their first Super Bowl since their only appearance in the game, a win over the Indianapolis Colts to complete the 2009 season, seemed in dire straights when future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees went down in the second week. While attempting a pass, Brees’ hand slammed into the helmet of oncoming Los Angeles Rams defender Aaron Donald, and the injury required surgery and Brees is still sidelined.
In his place, Teddy Bridgewater completed the game in Los Angeles, a 27-9 loss to the Rams, and has started all Saints games since. While New Orleans barely slipped by the Houston Texans in their opener and lost at LA in second week action, Brees’ two starts, Sean Payton’s team has been perfect since Bridgewater has moved in behind center.
It has been a combination of New Orleans knowing everyone needs to step up their game to compensate for the loss of Brees, and Bridgewater playing better and better with each passing week. In his first start, the Saints upset the Seahawks in Seattle. His second start, against the then undefeated Dallas Cowboys, was a narrow 12-10 home victory. Before the Saints played their third game with Bridgewater the starter, Payton decided to open the playbook for his quarterback and the results were an increase in offensive production with New Orleans scoring 31 points in a victory over Tampa Bay.
Last week, on the road, the Saints were underdogs to the Jacksonville Jaguars, and a stout defensive performance combined with steady quarterback play equaled a fourth straight win for the Saints, 13-6.
New Orleans is listed as an underdog again this week, this time at Soldier Field for a contest against the highly regarded Chicago Bears. While the public questioned whether the Saints could beat Seattle on the road or Dallas at home with Bridgewater behind center in his first two starts, backing the Seahawks and Cowboys in big numbers, the past two weeks the public has backed the Saints without Brees.
The past two weeks the public has taken New Orleans and won the money while the Saints downed the Buccaneers and Jaguars. This week, the books have again installed the Saints as an underdog, and again the public is backing New Orleans on the road.
What we have here is a Saints team inspired to play their best each week with the challenge poised by both their opponent and the bookmakers. In three of the four games Bridgewater has started, New Orleans has been a point spread underdog, and won all three games straight-up.
While New Orleans was noted before the season began as a legitimate Super Bowl threat, Chicago was pegged to have a down year after four straight last place finishes were ended last season with a division title. Winning when expectations are ahead of your team’s experience and talent is a horrible blanket over results, particularly against the point spread.
Chicago favored over New Orleans this year is simply wrong … but also a perfect spot to pick up a point spread winner.
Qoxhi Picks: New Orleans Saints (+3½) over Chicago Bears