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It's close call, but stick with Saints at home


Not that it’s a negative, but San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has a huge ego. He’s out to win games, not friends, and does not care if he annoys people with his arrogance and combative attitude.

Sean Payton is similar, yet more of a friend to the media and other coaches around the NFL, the head-hunting suspension aside.

But breaking down their personalities is almost a bigger waste of time than clicking on TMZ.com to see what Justin Bieber did last weekend. This is about two great coaches, and two NFC heavyweights butting heads in a matchup we might see again in the playoffs.

Payton has won a Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints. Harbaugh and the 49ers just lost one, but will get back there soon. Who has the edge Sunday at the Superdome? That’s not easy to answer.

The Saints are 3-point favorites and, based on their incredible home-field advantage and the passing exploits of Drew Brees, most bettors are going to lay the field goal. New Orleans has covered 14 straight home games with Payton on the sideline, and why not continue to ride the trend?

Harbaugh off a home loss and in the underdog role is an attractive situation, too. He’s 30-14-2 against the spread since leaving Stanford. His quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, is legit despite a recent slump.

San Francisco has the tougher defense, a unit ranking fourth in the league in scoring (17.2 points per game) and filled with Pro Bowlers. A way to rattle Brees is to hit him with an intense pass rush, but it’s also true that pressure bothers every quarterback.

Brees picked apart the Cowboys six days ago, completing 34 of 41 passes for 392 yards and four touchdowns in a 49-17 win. He was sacked just once while directing the Saints to 40 first downs.

Kaepernick was far from impressive a few hours earlier, passing for 91 yards and guiding the 49ers to only 10 first downs in a 10-9 loss to Carolina. Suffocated by the Panthers’ front seven, Kaepernick was sacked six times and intercepted once.

Yet focusing on what happened last week is the worst way to handicap the NFL. So let’s view the bigger picture.

The Saints are 7-2, including a fluke loss at the gun in New England. Payton might be the sharpest play-caller in the league, and Brees has 25 touchdown passes and the hottest hand this side of Peyton Manning. Kaepernick is in a funk of sorts and the 49ers (6-3) have run just as hot and cold.

It’s no easy call, because it’s the popular pick and one of the toughest possible matchups for Brees, but I’ll side with the more consistent team and follow the trend of Payton coaching the Saints to cover at home.

Four more plays for Week 11 (home team in CAPS):

■ Redskins (+4½) over EAGLES: Maybe this is where Philadelphia finally stops its home losing streak, which is at 10 games. The Eagles have failed to cover their past 12 at home. The Washington defense is likely to get lit up by Nick Foles, who torched Oakland and, to a lesser extent, Green Bay. But I’ll take a shot with the Redskins in a division revenge spot against a team with an actual home-field disadvantage.

■ Chargers (-1½) over DOLPHINS: A bet on San Diego usually seems like a game of Russian roulette. Although quarterback Philip Rivers’ improvement is undeniable, he’s still not a closer. The Chargers are 2-2 in trips east this season and easily could have won all four. With a depleted line and weak rushing attack, Miami ranks 30th in total offense. Rivers needs a bounce-back win, while the Dolphins are in decline.

■ BEARS (-3) over Ravens: The Baltimore offense has been a bad joke, producing 17, 18, 16 and 17 points in regulation in the past four games. Joe Flacco passed for 140 yards and lost 36 yards on five sacks last week. He also threw two interceptions and lost a fumble. Ray Rice is running in water and into waves of tacklers. Chicago’s defense has issues, but at this point, I like Josh McCown better than Jay Cutler at quarterback.

■ Patriots (+2½) over PANTHERS: New England has prepared two weeks for this Monday game since putting 55 points on Pittsburgh. That’s an advantage for Bill Belichick, who should win the coaching mismatch with Ron Rivera.

Last week: 3-2 against the spread

Season: 25-24-1

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.