Game of the day: Saints at Patriots

New Orleans Saints at New England Patriots

The line: The books opened with the New England favored by four points, but that has since dropped to -3.

The total: The total is set at 38 1/2.

Saints playing to win

The second week of the NFL preseason is usually considered a “cut week”; starting players take a few snaps and then make way for unproven veterans, or hungry rookies.

New Orleans Saints coach Jim Haslett has other ideas. Having already played his starters for a quarter and a half last game against Seattle, a game in which the Saints were pounded 34-15 as 3 1/2-point favorites. Haslett plans on playing his starters for three quarters tonight against the New England Patriots, trying to instill confidence in the team by taking it to the defending champs.

New England, headed by the ever-calculating Bill Belichick, has different plans for tonight’s contest.

“Of all the challenges we have Thursday night, the biggest is in the kicking game,” Belichick told “These guys are very strong on special teams. They have excellent specialists – their kicker, their snapper, their returners – they have a lot of really good cover people who have been productive for them in recent seasons. Statistically they have been at the top of the league since [Jim] Haslett’s been there.”

Unlike Haslett, Belichick is widely known for disclosing very little during preseason contests- he plays his starters very little, and seems to view the game as more of a glorified scrimmage.

That being said, Covers Expert William Foote reports that Belichick still manages to hold a 14-7 straight up and 13-7-1 against the spread mark (ATS) in 21 preseason games since taking over in New England. This includes a 23-13 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in their August 12 preseason opener as 2 1/2-point favorites.

The Saints have not been as successful in the preseason under Jim Haslett. In Haslett’s tenure (which dates back to 2000) Foote reports the Saints are just 3-5 straight up and 3-6 against the spread in preseason games.

"I didn`t play worth a crap the last game," tailback Deuce McAllister told The Times-Picayune, "So personally, I`m looking forward to (tonight`s game at New England) because it gives me an opportunity to get out there and get on the field again after the sorely disappointing game I had."

Deep "D"

The Patriots cavernous depth on defense appears to know no end. A noted defensive specialist, Belichick has the ability to pluck smart, agile defensive players out of thin air.

In the 2004 season, plagued by numerous defensive injuries, the Patriots simply plugged in players from various positions on the depth chart and never skipped a beat going 11-3-2 ATS.

Such profundity on the defensive side of the ball should not be underestimated by New Orleans starters, led the three-headed-monster of Aaron Brooks, McAllister, and Joe Horn.

Dillon expecting

Corey Dillon has been absent from practice as of late. Dillon, who rushed only four times for 26 yards in the Pats opener, is expecting a child with his wife, Desiree.

In typical Belichick fashion, no word has been given on Dillon’s status for Thursday’s game.

Second year back Kory Chapman carried 13 times for 62 yards against the Bengals.

Changes up front

The Saints are bigger this year.

The addition of first round pick Jamaal Brown and the maturation of talented young players such as center LeCharles Bentley has given the Saints the girth up front they need.

With a healthy McAllister playing big minutes behind these massive behemoths, Saints backers hope he`ll be able to pile up the numbers on the ground versus the Pats second and third teams.

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