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Monday Night Football Preview: New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks

New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks

Here's a preview of Monday night's matchup between the Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans, courtesy of STAT Stack:


Line: Saints -4, Total: 42.5


Not Your … Toddler’s Saints & Seahawks?

The last time the Saints and Seahawks met without either Drew Brees or Russell Wilson starting the game under center was Week 1 back in 2004. Mike Holmgren’s Seahawks, led by quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, beat Jim Haslett’s Saints -- quarterbacked by Aaron Brooks -- by a score of 21-7. Shaun Alexander scored three touchdowns, while Ernie Conwell made New Orleans’ only trip into the endzone. Feel old yet?

Had this game been played even last season, a Monday Night Football matchup between the Saints and the Seahawks, it would have been circled on the calendars of NFL diehards. Russell Wilson. Drew Brees. Monday Night Lights. Instead, thanks to Drew Brees’ retirement and Russell Wilson’s finger surgery, we have Jameis Winston’s 3-2 Saints traveling to Seattle to face Geno Smith’s 2-4 Seahawks.

To Smith’s credit, he’s kept Seattle competitive. He entered in the second half of Seattle’s game against the Rams and immediately led the team on a touchdown drive. If not for Tyler Lockett slipping coming out of a route, he may very well have led the team back for a potential victory, but instead it was an interception that essentially ended the game. Last week, he took the team down the field for a game-tying field goal to send it to overtime against the Steelers. Unfortunately, he fumbled in his own territory in the OT, which set up a game-winning field goal for Pittsburgh. For his career, Smith is 12-20 as a starter.

On the other side is Winston, who we’ll discuss more in the “Analytics” section of this post. Winston is in his first full-season starting for the Saints after backing up Brees last season and owns a career record of 31-44. Smith and Winston have never faced each other in the NFL.

While the quarterbacks will be different in this one, the coaches won’t be. Sean Payton is the second-longest tenured head coach in the NFL, hired by the Saints in 2006 (Bill Belichick became the Patriots head coach in 2000). Peter Carroll is the fifth-longest tenured head coach, having led the Seahawks since 2010 (in addition to Belichick and Carroll, Mike Tomlin and John Harbaugh have been with their current teams longer). Both coaches have winning percentages over 62% with their current teams and both are Super Bowl Champions. These two head coaches have faced each other six times (including playoffs) and have split those meetings. Monday’s game will likely break the tie, unless of course, there’s an actual tie.


Tricky Trends

It’s tough to place too much significance on historical trends in this matchup, since nearly any game that’s included would have been with Russell Wilson and Drew Brees under center. That said, Sean Payton is 4-2 against-the-spread when facing Pete Carroll and has covered three straight.

For his career, Winston is below .500 against-the-spread, going 34-38-3, but is 3-2 with the Saints this year. Smith, on the other hand, has covered the spread in six-straight games and is 5-1 ATS in primetime for his career. Seattle is 12-3 ATS in their last 15 games as a home underdog, but they’ve failed to cover in both of the last two instances, including this season against the Rams (the game where Wilson was injured).

Despite Geno’s recent success, bettors are backing the Saints with 59% of the bets and 71% of the money going toward the road favorite, according to Action Network. It should be noted that the Saints have typically been a very strong road team, going 14-5 ATS in their 19 road games since the start of 2019. Additionally, the under has cashed in six of the last eight Saints road games and Seattle home games have gone under the total in five of the past six. Regardless, 59% of the money has been bet on the over, while exactly 50% of the tickets have been placed on both sides.

Weather Advisory

If you watched Sunday Night Football, then you know a massive storm is tearing through the Northwestern United States. Well, this game is also being played in that region. While the storm isn’t expected to be nearly as impactful in this game as it was in Santa Clara, winds could reach as high as 25mph and steady rain is likely. Plan accordingly.


Jameis’ Legacy

When people think about Winston, the word “reckless” often comes to mind. He’s perhaps the best example of a “gunslinger” in the NFL; he tries to make every throw, even the ones that he shouldn’t. Winston has thrown 91 interceptions in his career, around one for every 30 passes that he attempts. He has been better this season, however, currently owning a 108.1 passer rating in his five starts with New Orleans; the highest rating he recorded in his first five seasons, all with the Buccaneers, was 92.2 (2017).

In those first five seasons with Tampa Bay, he played in 72 games and threw 121 touchdown passes, but committed 111 turnovers (88 interceptions, 23 fumbles lost). This season, he’s thrown 12 touchdown passes and only committed four turnovers (3 INT, 1 lost fumble). Winston has been sacked nine times and has the Saints tied for 10th in the NFL, allowing less than two per game (1.8). In his infamous 30-interception season with the Bucs in 2019, Winston was dropped 47 times. Part of the reason that Winston’s numbers look better this year is that the Saints simply don’t ask him to throw as much as Tampa Bay did. Winston led the league with 626 passing attempts in 2019 and he averaged over 35 attempts per game in his 72 games with the Bucs. This season, he’s averaging 23.3 pass attempts per game. In 53 of his 70 starts with Tampa Bay, he threw the ball at least 30 times. Last week in the Saints win over Washington was the first time this season that he hit the 30-pass-attempt mark, and he attempted exactly 30 passes. He had 48 starts with the Buccaneers where he threw more passes than he’s thrown in any game as a Saint.

According to Next Gen Stats, Winston is still holding the ball longer than nearly every other passes. Winston’s “time-to-throw” is 3.07 seconds, which is only trailing Lamar Jackson and Zach Wilson (3.1 seconds). Jackson and Wilson often use their legs to buy time, while Winston is mostly a stand-still pocket-passer. Despite only taking the nine sacks so far this season, he’s being sacked more frequently than he did in Tampa. Even in 2019, when Winston was sacked a career-high 47 times, he hit the turf once every 13.3 pass attempts. This season, that number is 12.9 attempts per sack taken. In his Bucs career, he was sacked once for every 15.8 attempts. And, while his peripheral stats look better, some of the underlying numbers say they are deceiving. Winston’ s xCOMP +/- (which we described in-depth here) is -2.2. Here is the list of passers who have a worse mark than that: Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, Sam Darnold, Trevor Lawrence, Ben Roethlisberger, and Jacoby Brissett. Not exactly good company.

Sean Payton understands what he has in Winston and he tries to scheme around the quarterbacks’ strengths and weaknesses. He doesn’t ask him to do too much, simply take care of the football, something he’s been better at this season. But, can the Saints be as successful with Winston as they have been with Brees? That’s an extremely tough bar to clear and the deeper numbers suggest that Winston’s start hasn’t been quite as good as it seems. Plus, now in his seventh NFL season, it seems unlikely that Winston will ever become the player he was expected to be when he was selected with the #1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.