ESPN senior writer Mike Sando asks NFL insiders to pick winners in select games each week. Three evaluators joined the panel for Week 12. This week's games: Falcons-Saints, Seahawks-Panthers, Browns-Bengals, Steelers-Broncos and Packers-Vikings.
Thursday: 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC | Point spread: NO by 13 | Insiders pick: NO (3/3)
All three insiders were going to pick the Saints, but I wondered how much they loved New Orleans and whether they thought the point spread was realistic.
"Divisional games are closer, especially with the Saints," one insider said. "Most teams are not used to the tempo and style of New Orleans and just the way they play. Teams in the division know what to expect. I understand the Falcons' defense is banged up and they are not the same team, but I actually think this could be a pretty good game."
The Saints have played two games against NFC South opponents this season. They lost at home to Tampa Bay in a 48-40 shootout to open the season. They won 43-37 at Atlanta. And while New Orleans routed Philadelphia and Cincinnati by a combined 78 points over the past two weeks, six of the Saints' other eight games were decided by 10 or fewer points.
"Man, the Saints are a buzz saw right now and I don't see Atlanta stopping them," another insider said. "They just have too many weapons right now."
Are the Saints a great team? The insiders called New Orleans very good.
"Their defense is not good -- not good enough to be great," one of the insiders said. "But the way that quarterback [Drew Brees] is playing, the way that offense is playing, it carries them."
The third insider said he thought how teams jelled during the final six or seven weeks would reveal whether they ascended into a truly elite category.
"If it is a back-and-forth game where you can manipulate their defense, they can be exposed, especially their safeties," another insider said. "They love to crowd the box in their run game and bring Vonn Bell down to cover. What they do is get an early lead, then tee off and rush you like the Colts used to, pinning their ears back and playing with house money."