Monday Night Football betting preview. Chargers vs Saints

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It was another wild NFL Sunday in Week 5. The Cowboys were able to move into first place in the NFC East, but they lost starting QB Dak Prescott to a gruesome leg injury. Alex Smith returned to the lineup for the first time since 2018 and got a standing ovation from his family. The Raiders managed to beat the Chiefs as massive underdogs.

We also had some additional COVID-19 tests come back positive, which has affected the slate for Monday Night Football. The Patriots and Broncos were scheduled to play tonight at 5 p.m. ET, but that game will now be played in Week 6.

Instead, we will now have just one game on tap for tonight, and it was the game that was originally scheduled. The Los Angeles Chargers will head to New Orleans to take on the Saints in a prime time battle in the Superdome.

Can the Chargers keep this game competitive or will the Saints cruise to victory? Let’s break down this contest and try to identify some potential betting value.

Los Angeles Chargers @ New Orleans Saints (-7) — 50.0 total

Moneylines: Chargers +235/Saints -278

This is shaping up to be an interesting battle in the bayou. The Saints initially opened as 7.5 points favorites, but that line has come down a bit thanks to some sharp betting activity. The consensus line is currently listed at 7, but it’s down to just 6.5 in some locations.

The public betting numbers in this matchup are pretty even at the moment — 53% of the spread bets have landed on the Saints — so the line movement stems from an abundance of high-dollar wagers. A whopping 90% of the spread dollars have landed on the Chargers, which is a clear indicator of sharp activity.

Some of that may stem from the absence of Michael Thomas. He was all set to make his return for the Saints this week after missing each of the past three games with an ankle injury, but he has been suspended for this contest after getting into an altercation with a teammate at practice.

That leaves Drew Brees without his favorite target in the passing game. Thomas garnered a whopping 185 targets last year, and he led the league in both receptions and receiving yards. He’s also posted a catch rate of at least 80.5% in each of the past two seasons, so he’s hyper efficient despite a pretty massive workload.

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Without Thomas, the Saints receiving corps is pretty uninspiring. Emmanuel Sanders was brought in to give them a legitimate threat opposite Thomas, but he doesn’t appear to be the same player that he was in his prime. He is coming off his best game of the season in his last outing, but his average of 45.5 yards per game is still the lowest mark of his career since becoming a full-time starter.

Tight end Jared Cook also looks like a true game-time decision today. He was limited in practice all week and is currently listed as questionable. Even if he does suit up, his impact on the field has been pretty limited to start the season.

That leaves just two players to carry the majority of the workload for the Saints: Alvin Kamara and Tre’Quan Smith.

Kamara has been an absolute monster to start the year. The Saints have allocated a whopping 36.3% of their targets to the RB position — which is easily the top mark in the league — and Kamara has garnered virtually all of them. He leads the team with 35 targets through four games, and no other RB on the squad has more than six. He’s actually racked up more yards through the air than on the ground to start the year, and his mark of 321 receiving yards ranks 24th in the league regardless of position. Most of the players ahead of him on this list have also played an extra game, so expect Kamara to get near the top 10 following tonight’s contest.

The Chargers have fared well defending RBs in the passing game this season — they currently rank first in Football Outsiders’ pass defense DVOA to the position — but that looks more like a small sample size anomaly than anything else. Denzel Perriman has been their best linebacker in terms of pass defense according to Pro Football Focus, but he’s played just 68 total snaps this season. Their top two linebackers in terms of snaps are Kenneth Murray and Kyzer White, and both of those guys have dismal PFF coverage grades. Overall, I don’t really see anyone on this roster who can stop Kamara.

Things should be tougher for Smith, who has had a mini-breakout without Thomas out of the lineup. He plays the majority of his snaps in the slot, which sets up a matchup vs. Desmond King. He has easily been the Chargers’ top defensive back this season.

On the other side of the ball, the Saints’ defense has been solid to start the year. They currently rank eighth in overall defensive DVOA, 11th vs. the pass, and fourth vs. the run. They were torched by Aaron Rodgers two weeks ago at home, but everyone has been torched by Rodgers so far this season.

That means Justin Herbert will have a tough task ahead of him. Herbert has been very impressive as a rookie, racking up an average of 310.3 yards per game and an 8.4 adjusted yards per attempt (AYA) through his first three games. That second mark is very impressive for a rookie and currently ranks 10th in the league.

He should continue to lean on Keenan Allen, who has been easily his most preferred target to start his career. He’s targeted Allen at least 10 times in each of his first three starts, including a whopping 19 targets in Week 3 vs. the Panthers. Allen draws a solid matchup vs. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, who is merely mediocre in terms of coverage from the slot.

Herbert will have to lean on Allen and the rest of his pass catchers since they should have very little success running the football. Not only are the Saints excellent in that department, the Chargers will also be without top RB Austin Ekeler. Joshua Kelley will likely serve as the lead back in his absence, but Kelley has managed just 3.3 yards per carry during his rookie year. He also isn’t nearly the same threat catching passes out of the backfield as Ekeler, who was one of the best in the business in the department.

Overall, I’m looking to buy the Saints from a long-term perspective since they feel undervalued at the moment. They rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive DVOA to start the year and have simply gotten unlucky. The injury to Thomas has obviously had an impact on this team, and they’ve also given up an improbable 244 yards allowed via defensive pass interference. No other team in the league had more than 100 entering Week 5, so that number feels a bit flukey.

Still, I don’t think this is necessarily the spot to start buying them. The loss of Thomas is massive and makes the Saints much easier to defend. Stopping Kamara still isn’t easy, but it’s a lot easier than stopping Kamara and Thomas.

The sharp activity also points me in the direction of the Chargers. Historically, teams with a dollars vs. bets discrepancy of at least 10% have gone 31-23-1 against the spread during primetime games. The Chargers definitely fit that description — their dollars vs. bets discrepancy currently sits at 43% — and I don’t see that changing before kickoff.

I’m also locking this bet in as soon as possible to make sure that I get it at +7. The difference between +7 and +6.5 is massive, so this is a spot where you definitely want to get the best number.

The Pick: Los Angeles Chargers +7

Player Prop Bets

Alvin Kamara

  • Over 51.5 receiving yards (-112)

Kamara is coming off his worst game as a receiver in his last contest, which makes this the perfect time to buy low on him. He finished with just four targets, three catches, and 36 receiving yards, all of which were his lowest marks of the year. The Saints had that game in cruise control after jumping out to a 35-14 lead, so they simply didn’t need to lean on Kamara as much as they had in previous weeks.

If you think that this game will be a bit closer, this line seems like a smash. Kamara saw at least nine targets in his first two games without Thomas this season, and he recorded at least 95 receiving yards in both contests.

Justin Jackson

  • Over 22.5 rushing yards (-115)
  • Over 1.5 receptions (-145)

The injury to Ekeler opens the door for Jackson to command a solid handful of touches in this contest. Kelley is still expected to operate as the starting RB and get the majority of the opportunities in the backfield, but Jackson played on 40% of the Chargers’ snaps last week. He ultimately finished with just nine rushing yards, but he did receive six carries. Jackson has averaged 5.1 yards per attempt to begin his career, so he’s capable of making the most of a limited workload.

I also like his ability to snag at least two passes. He did that last week, and the Saints rank merely 23rd in pass defense DVOA vs. the RB position this season.

Keenan Allen

  • Over 6.5 receptions (-156)

This prop is juiced up a bit, but it’s hard to bet against Allen catching at least seven balls in this contest. He’s done so in all three contests vs. with Herbert under center, which is not surprising considering his massive target share. This matchup isn’t nearly scary enough to push me off the over here, even at a slightly higher price tag than usual.

Tre’Quan Smith

  • Under 54.5 receiving yards (-105)

Even with Smith taking a step forward in the absence of Thomas, this line still feels a bit high. He’s finished with 54 receiving yards or fewer in each of his past two games, those were arguably in better matchups than he’ll face this week. Sanders should lead the team in opportunities among the wide receivers, and Cook could also cut into Smith’s target share if he’s able to suit up.

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