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Chaotic offseason makes Saints tough to gauge

No publicity is bad publicity, unless it’s your own obituary or you are the New Orleans Saints. An outlaw team without its head coach is trying to move forward while missing disgruntled quarterback Drew Brees.

Why is Brees hot-headed and bothered? He was tagged the Saints’ franchise player, meaning he would make a measly $16.371 million this season if he signs the tender. He deserves a raise and a long-term contract, but excuse us if we don’t cry for the poor guy.

Instead of flinging passes during organized team activities in the offseason, Brees is sitting at a negotiating impasse. Negative work environments rarely produce positive results, and that’s why the Saints’ situation is so fascinating.

Cantor Gaming sports book director Mike Colbert was the first to post NFL regular-season win totals this week. Putting a solid number on New Orleans involved more guesswork than usual.

“That was the hardest win total for us to make because of everything surrounding that team,” Colbert said. “To say the Saints are going to win nine games might be a stretch, but I don’t know. I would say they are more likely to win nine than win 11.”

The Saints were a 13-3 team last season, when Brees passed for a league-record 5,476 yards to go with 46 touchdowns. But the coaching staff is in chaos, with Sean Payton suspended for the year, and what fate awaits New Orleans is as uncertain as a drunken night on Bourbon Street.

On Wednesday, Colbert opened the Saints’ win total at 10 (over minus-125). Betting against bad news, wiseguys immediately fired a few limit wagers of $3,000 under the total.

MGM Resorts sports book director Jay Rood was next to open season wins on Thursday, and his number on New Orleans was 9½ (over minus-135).

“There is an opportunity for the Saints to have a very bad year,” Rood said. “Everyone said the Colts were one hit away from being a three- or four-win team, and they were, as it turned out.”

Actually, minus an injured Peyton Manning, the Indianapolis Colts were a two-win team. But the point is clear. If for some reason Brees does not play at least part of the season, the wheels will fall off the Saints, who already look shaky.

I’ll predict Brees eventually gets the fat deal he wants, but New Orleans finishes 9-7 anyway. Bet the total under 10, and it would take 11 wins to burn the ticket.

Cantor Gaming recently posted point spreads on each game of the season’s first 16 weeks, and a devil’s advocate would say the Saints are favored in 11 of 15 games.

But at this point, before injuries begin to decimate random teams, the sharpest bettors are looking for value on the low side of the win totals. Colbert said early money also came in under the totals for Denver (9½), Kansas City (8), Arizona (7) and Tampa Bay (6).

One team drawing strong action over the total is Carolina, which is posted at 7½. The Panthers went 6-10 last season behind rookie quarterback Cam Newton.

In Week 2, Carolina is a 2½-point home underdog to the Saints. In Week 8, the Saints are 2½-point underdogs at Denver.

And on the subject of the Broncos, no team is a hotter topic. MGM Resorts, which offers betting limits of $5,000, posted Denver’s win total at 9 (over minus-135) after some serious debate among oddsmakers.

“A couple guys were coming up with 10, and a couple guys were coming up with 7½ and 8,” Rood said. “That one was all over the map.”

An injury to Manning, who is coming off multiple neck surgeries, would cause the Broncos to fall off the map, much like the Colts did. While the betting public seems to be optimistic about Denver, the wiseguys are taking a pessimistic approach.

“I can totally understand it. The Broncos’ schedule is brutal,” Colbert said. “Manning is a bigger question mark this year than he’s ever been in his career. But he’s a quarterback who doesn’t get hit that much. He knows how to control the line of scrimmage, and he probably has the quickest release in football. I think, as we get closer to the season, we’ll see a lot of public money on Denver.”

Colbert said “90 percent of the business has been sharp” since Cantor Gaming posted win totals, and middling and scalping tactics heated up when MGM hung lines with a disparity. The LVH will open its NFL numbers Sunday.

“I wanted them up this weekend so I get a feel which way the general public is going to play,” Rood said.

Unlike in New Orleans, we enjoy a positive work environment at the Review-Journal. A happy-go-lucky guy at the next desk recommends playing Buffalo over 7 and Miami under 7½, and I tend to agree.

Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans 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, 98.9 FM).

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