It’s Week 3 of the preseason, perhaps better known as “the one teams care about.” The general wisdom is this is the one exhibition game in which teams give all of their starters legitimate playing time and try some things they might actually do in a real game.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It’s still a preseason game and the starters will see a half at most. That’s still big news for the underdog Saints, who should unleash Drew Brees for the first time. The Chargers, fresh off a win over the Seahawks in Philip Rivers’ debut, are favored in their final home game until the season opener. But their extenuating circumstances make them a risky bet.
Related: Preseason betting guide
Los Angeles Chargers (-2.5) vs New Orleans Saints (O/U 44)
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers are arguably the team hardest hit by injuries this preseason. They’ve now lost Hunter Henry, Jason Verrett and Jaylen Watkins to season-ending injuries. So while the Chargers are going to give their starters some extra work this week, if anyone’s going to start pulling guys a little early, it’s them.
We’ve seen this already with Joey Bosa and Forrest Lamp. Bosa has a supposedly minor injury but has yet to play in the preseason. Lamp, the 38th overall pick from the 2017 NFL Draft, ought to be fully recovered from the torn ACL he suffered over a year ago. However, there’s been no sign of him yet, either.
On the plus side, the Chargers don’t appear to be very shy about giving Melvin Gordon the ball. He’s tied for 18th in rushing attempts in the preseason. That’s notable because with few exceptions (Mike Gillislee, Jeremy Hill, LeGarrette Blount) the guys ahead of him are rookies and end-of-the-roster types. Perhaps Los Angeles will cut him loose against a Saints defense that gave up 4.4 yards per carry last season.
New Orleans Saints
Speaking of poor rushing defenses, the Chargers were arguably the worst in the league last year. They were 31st in rush yards allowed (131.1 per game) and last in yards per attempt (4.9). Mark Ingram has just one fewer carry than Gordon and this may be the last we see of him until his suspension ends in Week 5. He and Alvin Kamara could do plenty of damage in one half.
We’ll also get our first glimpse of rookie Marcus Davenport, whom the Saints selected 14th overall. The Saints must think rather highly of him seeing as they gave up their 2019 first-round pick to trade up for him. His presence should help the Saints’ pass rush, which has already been formidable. Their six sacks are tied for ninth-best in the preseason.
It’s almost always best to take the points in a preseason game and this is no exception. The Saints are probably the more talented team overall and have a case to be favored on that basis. Factor in the Chargers having more of an incentive to pack it in early and the Saints are the better pick.
As for the total, go with over. The Chargers’ unwillingness to play Bosa means a smaller chance of generating a pass rush against New Orleans’ stout offensive line. That means more scoring for Brees. Also, both teams have excellent running backs going against poor run defenses. This should be more of a shootout than their previous exhibition games.
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