by Chris Corbellini
These Saints Could Be Something Special
I learned everything I needed to know about teamwork when I was 19. I had just qualified for the Dad Vail Regatta Finals as a freshman rower, and when my teammates and I returned back from the hotel, we spotted the varsity guys playing pool and drinking beers (they had not qualified). One of them, a future commodore of the boathouse, quickly called his shot. I will never forget it.
“Tonight you will hear the greatest speech of your life.”
We were in Philly somewhere. I don’t remember where exactly – and I lived in Old City for seven years in my 30s, so I should. All I recall is that night, after dinner, in a room with all eight of us and our coxswain seated around our coach as he started …
“When you are all rowing together, as one, after all your preparation, it is magic. You will feel it. It will all click. The boat will walk on the water. It’ll feel effortless. It. Is. Magic.”
He was in his late 50s at the time, and looking back now in a hazy way he reminds me of present-day Harrison Ford, with a little more nerd to him. A lifer on that water, always chasing some eight-man boat in his skiff on frosty Lake Cayuga in October and April. He went on, but I’ll stop there. The point was made. When you work together, moving as one for a singular goal, and it begins clicking almost unconsciously … well …
You become greater than the sum.
Everything just moves. It is indeed a magical thing. Perfect synergy in all that sweat. A perfect harmony at the finish as everyone exults, exhausted. A team that manages to find that and become greater than their parts can defeat another loaded with talent. I will always believe this.
Now let’s flash forward nearly 25 years. I’m reading an academic paper about the concept of team fit, and the study used something called Frescoball as a test case (You basically hit the ball to each other using super-size ping pong paddles, and not let the ball drop). The researchers separated the teams of two into eight categories, like so:
Athlete Consistent/Athlete Consistent (AC-AC)
Athlete Consistent/Athlete Inconsistent (AC-AI)
Athlete Inconsistent/Athlete Inconsistent (AI-AI)
Non-athlete consistent/Non-athlete consistent (NC-NC)
Non-athlete inconsistent/Non-athlete inconsistent (NI-NI)
Athlete consistent/Non-athlete consistent (AC-NC)
Athlete inconsistent/Non-athlete consistent (AI-NC)
Athlete inconsistent/Non-athlete inconsistent (AI-NI)
I’ll spare you the math and accompanying graphs, and just explain that the researchers at the University of Madison-Wisconsin punched out a supporting formula for my crew coach’s speech: you whip opponents by being consistent together. The AC-AC were big winners, yes, but the AC-NC and NC-NC teams were not far behind, and in most cases, convincingly beat the others.
And I think about that coach’s wisdom, and frescoball, as the NFL reaches Week 11. Who is the AC-AC squad, action-packed with immeasurable talent and working together as one?
If the Los Angeles Rams put it together in all three phases during the playoffs … I mean, say goodnight, kids. The Rams are already more than a contender. As of this week, Los Angeles is l1-4 co-favorites to win the Super Bowl. If they can find a No. 3 receiver now that Cooper Kupp is out for the season, and that defensive line really starts to find its groove, and the corners start believing in themselves again, then that’s the AC-AC, and they’ll happily skip away with it. But the Rams aren’t quite there yet. They haven’t found that walking on water moment.
Meanwhile, the New Orleans Saints are grinding away together exceptionally well. There’s no way New Orleans should be 8-1 with that mediocre defense: slot corner P.J. Williams is atrocious (with a 42.6 Pro Football Focus grade last week), and Eli Apple isn’t exactly 2009 Darrelle Revis, either. But the sum is certainly greater than the parts. Throw in Brees and Kamara and Michael Thomas on offense, and there’s an AC-NC dynamic going on down there in NOLA. I can’t wait to see what they do with it … maybe with the HOF-bound Brees as a rallying point, the Saints find that magic and it all comes together in Super Bowl LIII.
And that’s where I’ll start this week. At New Orleans. As always, home team in caps. William Hill odds. I also added some percentages to correspond with the winners I picked – they represent the calculations made by The Quant Edge that those teams will cover the Vegas line. Full disclosure: I currently work at TQE as an advisor.
NEW ORLEANS (-7.5) over Philadelphia (57.2%, 75.5% if Brees plays great)
Iggles QB Carson Wentz is gonna light up the Superdome. Alshon Jeffery, Golden Tate, Zach Ertz, Nelson Agholor … that’s four bottles of lightning right there at his disposal. I’m sure there are plenty of folks out there in gambling-land who expect the Eagles to cover in a close loss.
But looks at those odds: 75% if Brees has a great game! On that turf, in front of that moveable feast of New Orleans fans, I submit that the Brees bar for great would be in the 310-yard, 2-TD passing range. With all that momentum after scoring a combined 126 points in the last three games, Brees could do that after three quarters, and let Kamara take it from there and pad the stats of his adoring fantasy owners from coast to coast.
I see the Saints winning by 10, with their embattled defense (and that D has been embattled since the ‘60s, with a blip of awesome in the early ‘90s) making a big play that surprises us all. There is a danger of NOLA peaking in this one, but let’s not knock the Big Easy off that cloud just yet, shall we?
Houston (-3) over WASHINGTON (58.2%, 81% if Deshaun Watson plays great)
The Texans have a nearly nine-point advantage when comparing their PFF grades on defense to that of the Redskins offense. Houston still can’t cover a tight end, so Washington’s Jordan Reed might enjoy this one (I feel like I write that every week). But the Redskins offensive line is a gooey mess at the guard spots, and the Texans should stunt inside to rough them up.
And here’s a Keanu Reeves “whoa” stat: corner Danny Johnson and his 39.4 PFF rating will face DeAndre Hopkins and his 90.8 score … a 51.4 differential. They will have to double Hopkins, right? Or throw Josh Norman his way? In either case, Watson is gonna throw a bunch while on the run in this one, as that Redskins front can pulverize you in the pocket (their linemen grades last week: 71-64-71-78). And when Watson does roll out, Hopkins is shifty enough to slip free of anyone. I see Houston winning this one on the road by a TD.
Carolina (-4.5) over DETROIT (58%, 73.3% if Cam plays great)
Norv Turner is yet another example of a failed NFL head coach absolutely tearing it up as an assistant. As offensive coordinator of the Panthers, he’s proven to Cam Newton that a two-man game with he and Christian McCaffrey is their best chance to win every week, and it’s worked well so far. That pair will face a Lions linebacker corps that are average at best, and a slot corner who shall remain unnamed who has a PFF-low grade of 29.6.
Still, this might be one of those fantasy-vulture games, where Carolina’s No. 2 receiver has, say, three touchdowns in the first half — instead of McCaffrey or popular tight end Greg Olsen. You wouldn’t expect Lions coach Matt Patricia to fall for such decoy tactics, but this was a weird f-cking week for him, as he spent a testy afternoon with reporters having to defend practicing outside when his next four games are indoors.
ARIZONA (-5) over Oakland (63.5%, 78.6% if David Johnson plays great)
A purely analytical pick, and one totally against my gut. I don’t typically go with a rookie NFL QB at -5. But New Cardinals offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich realized that maybe featuring David Johnson, one of the league’s best players, is, you know, a worthwhile thing. At this point I expect Arizona to ride Johnson like one of Khaleesi’s dragons, burning defense after defense to cinders. A shame it’s too late for the Cards (2-7) to make a real run.
Oh, by the way, the Raiders D is ranked 29th against running backs in the passing game, and 32nd overall, so I punched in David doing well into TQE’s betting tool, and it gave me 78.6%.
Good luck to you all this week.
In the words of the late, great William Goldman: “May all your scars be little ones.”
Last week: 2-2