Interesting coaching dynamic in the Thursday night game this week, which features NFC South rivals Atlanta and New Orleans -- it's a must-win for the Saints or their season is pretty much finished.
Sometimes a head coach simply stays too long at a job, no matter the sport or how successful he might have been. Now, obviously it hasn't been a problem with someone like Bill Belichick in New England, but you always hear that eventually players will tune out the same voice after a while. That seemed to happen in Atlanta with Mike Smith the previous two seasons. He was hired before the 2008 season, and the Falcons had been very successful under him until the past two years. A change was made this offseason, and Atlanta is 5-0 and can already match its 2014 wins total with a victory Thursday. Dan Quinn, the former Seahawks defensive coordinator, is the +300 favorite at Sportsbook.ag to win NFL Coach of the Year honors.
Then you have the Saints' Sean Payton. Everyone says he's a very creative offensive mind and one of the best play-callers in the NFL. But it might be time for a divorce there. Payton has been in New Orleans since 2006, and the Saints are staring at perhaps their second straight losing season under him with the team at 1-4. You may have already seen reports that other teams will be calling the Saints to see if they could perhaps hire Payton away this winter. The Miami Dolphins are rumored to be one. Payton might be ready to leave as this is a rebuilding club by this point. You might not see Drew Brees in New Orleans next year, either.
Falcons at Saints Betting Story Lines
I do think Atlanta is pretty good, but I'm not sold on it being a Super Bowl contender yet. The Falcons are the first team in NFL history to start a season 5-0 with four of those wins coming after trailing at some point in the fourth quarter. They could easily be 2-3 or 1-4. Frankly, the Falcons deserved to lose last week but escaped with a 25-19 overtime win over the visiting Redskins. Robert Alford returned a Kirk Cousins pass 59 yards for a touchdown in the OT, so the Falcons never had to even have their offense take the field. Atlanta trailed 16-12 before Devonta Freeman's 6-yard scoring run with 24 seconds remaining in regulation. The Falcons also turned it over three times. If they were playing a better team, they would have lost.
Freeman has become a fantasy football superstar as he leads the NFL with eight rushing touchdowns and last week became the first player in the Super Bowl era to rush for at least seven touchdowns in his first three career starts. But Atlanta's best player is receiver Julio Jones, who has been held to nine total catches for 105 yards over the past two games after catching at least nine for a minimum 135 yards in the first three games. Jones is dealing with hamstring and toe injuries but expects to play.
The Saints could be 0-5 as their only win was 26-20 in OT over the Brandon Weeden-led Dallas Cowboys. Instead of building some momentum off that, New Orleans was crushed 39-17 last week in Philadelphia, the fourth time this season the Saints have allowed at least 26 points. Drew Brees had three turnovers leading to 17 points for Philadelphia. He finished 26 of 43 for 335 yards, two TDs and one interception. Brees is getting no help from a running game that ranks 29th in the NFL in yards per game (85.4) and 28th in average per carry (3.6). Brees is also on pace to be sacked 53 this season. That total would easily eclipse Brees' previous high of 37 set in 2013.
New Orleans got bad news from that Philly game as receiver Marques Colston reportedly separated his shoulder in the loss. The team hasn't actually ruled him out yet, but I don't see how he plays. Colston had three receptions for 36 yards against the Eagles, giving him 18 catches for 200 yards for the year.
The Saints have won six of the past nine meetings in the series but were swept last year. In Week 1 in Atlanta, the Falcons won 37-34 in overtime. Matt Bryant kicked a tying 51-yard field goal on the final play of regulation and a 52-yarder after the Saints fumbled the ball away -- Colston did it -- on the second play of overtime. Matt Ryan threw for a franchise-record 448 yards. In Week 16 in New Orleans, the Falcons won 30-14 to eliminate the Saints from the playoffs. Ryan threw for 322 and a TD and Brees 313 and a score but two picks.
Falcons at Saints Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , the Falcons are 3-point favorites (-170) with a total of 51. They are -170 on the moneyline and the Saints +150. On the alternate lines, Atlanta is -3.5 (+105) and -2.5 (-145). The Falcons are 4-1 against the spread this season and 2-3 "over/under." The Saints are 2-3 ATS and 3-2 O/U.
Atlanta is 5-0 ATS in its past five Thursday games. It is 6-2 ATS in its past eight vs. the NFC. The Saints are 17-4 ATS in their past 21 at home vs. teams with a winning road record. New Orleans is 1-6 ATS in its past seven overall at home. The home team is 6-1 ATS in the past seven meetings. The over is 5-2 in the past seven in New Orleans.
NFL Expert Picks Against the Spread: Falcons at Saints Betting Predictions
Brees has won seven of his nine career home starts against the Falcons since joining the Saints in 2006. And the Saints used to be unbeatable in prime time at home. With a win here, New Orleans can tie the Patriots (26) for the second-most wins in primetime since 2006.
I do expect a close game as 10 of the past 13 meetings have been decided by one score. I actually think the Saints might win outright -- especially if Jones actually sits -- but I'll take the 3.5-point alternate line to be safe. Go over the total.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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