SAINTS (-6 ½ / Over 48) over Panthers: Here we go again with the third meeting between these NFC South divisional playmates. Riding the eternal division teeter-totter, the Saints are on the upswing, with the Falcons and Panthers looking to claw back to recent heights. With the rocket fuel which was the 2017 New Orleans draft propelling the Saints up, up and away (RB Alvin Kamara, CB Marshon Lattimore — who’s destroyed the Panthers as much as anyone, free safety Marcus Williams and offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk, thanks), a program notorious for drafting misfires has made up a ton of ground in a hurry.
Like so many of them, coach Sean Payton is a much better when he’s provided the material to sustain a serious run. It’s gratifying to see a precision artist like Drew Brees look to capitalize on a magical year (72 percent completion percentage) while still young enough to make something of it (turning 39 on Jan. 15).
The fact the Saints have recently covered against the Panthers with regularity is significant … especially in divisional play, where it’s a constant scissor/paper/rock game, and the Saints continue to get the best of it — all the more so, now, with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara generating viable ground distractions to facilitate Brees’ maximum exploitation of the Saints’ passing attack.
Carolina is slated to have tight end Greg Olsen available for this. He’s long been one of the best at the position, and has to help, but not sold it’s anything but too little, too late. The defense currently is hard-pressed to hold foes below the 20s, and on this fast track, it would just take one or two errant Cam Newton passes channeled into the hands of rookie Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore to make this too tall a hill to climb for this visitor.
Though defensive end Trey Hendrickson is expected back for the Saints, this favorite have not been the luckiest bunch this year in terms of season-ending injuries, which have affected depth. But even with seasonal double-revenge working for Cam and Co., Newton figures to need to be on his very best behavior to get past this foe in the loud, raucous Dome.
Bills (+8 ½ / Under 39¹/₂) over JAGUARS: This looms a dangerous, tricky handicap — given the broad historical eccentricities of Jaguars QB Blake Bortles considered in tandem with the Bills’ initial postseason appearance this century. Bills are cursed with the sprained-ankle issues to bellcow running back…