Sunday is the final regular-season NFL game ever in Atlanta's Georgia Dome as the team is moving to the spectacular Mercedes-Benz Stadium for next season. That's one thing the Falcons and Saints have in common: their stadiums will be sponsored by the same company starting in 2017.
But the Falcons (10-5) are guaranteed at least one more game in the Georgia Dome after Sunday as they are the NFC South champions for the first time since 2012 -- which was the last time the team made the postseason or finished with a winning record. Coach Dan Quinn has done a nice job in his second season, and his best move was probably hiring Kyle Shanahan as his offensive coordinator. That offense has been the NFL's best this season, and Shanahan is probably going to get a head-coaching job. He's currently the +500 third-favorite at BetOnline (behind Jon Gruden at +250 and Patriots OC Josh McDaniels at +275) to be the next Rams coach.
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If Atlanta wins this game, it will be the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs. Thus Quinn has no intention of resting any healthy players. I believe the Falcons could go win at Dallas in that dome, but I don't see them going out and winning in the elements of Seattle, for example. The Falcons could also get the No. 2 spot with a tie and a Seahawks loss or tie in San Francisco, a Seahawks loss coupled with a Lions loss or tie at home to Green Bay, and a Seahawks tie coupled with a Lions loss. I believe we are looking at a Seattle-Atlanta divisional-round matchup as I'm going to assume a Falcons win here as well as a Seattle victory at the 49ers and then in the wild-card round in Seattle. The Seahawks hosted the Falcons in Week 6 and won 26-24 on a field goal with under two minutes left.
The Saints (7-8) have a shot to finish 7-9 for the third straight year and fourth in the past five. I believe the team made a mistake last offseason, and that it knows it at this point, by giving Coach Sean Payton a five-year extension worth a whopping $45 million. Clearly Payton isn't about to walk away from that, but the Saints would get trade offers from other teams. Reports are the team is ready to move on from him. BetOnline also offers a prop on where Payton is coaching Week 1 next season: Saints (-220), Rams (+800), Jaguars (+800) or any other team (+400). I will mention that Bears GM Ryan Pace knows Payton well from Pace's days with the Saints and both guys went to Eastern Illinois. So Chicago could be a possibility. Payton is a California native with family there and previously coached at San Diego State, so the Rams or Chargers make sense.
Saints at Falcons Betting Story Lines
It's really a shame that the Saints are ruining what are probably the last stellar years of Drew Brees' Hall of Fame career. He's on pace to win yet another passing yardage title with an NFL-best 4,858 yards at age 37. Brees has won that crown three straight years and six times overall. He's also in the mix for the TD passing crown with 35, one behind Aaron Rodgers, and for the completion percentage title as Brees is at 70.9 and behind only Minnesota's Sam Bradford (71.3). As usual,, the Saints are a very good offensive team, leading the NFL in total yards and passing yards per game and No. 2 in points (29.1). But also as usual, the Saints leave much to be desired on defense, ranking 25th in yards and 30th (27.7 ppg) in points allowed.
New Orleans helped hand the NFC South title to Atlanta last week and all but eliminate the Buccaneers from the playoffs with a 31-24 victory over Tampa. Brees threw for 299 yards and a TD and Mark Ingram had 90 yards and two scores on 18 carries. He's 60 yards shy of the first 1,000-yard season of his career. Rookie WR Michael Thomas is 19 yards shy of a 1,000-yard receiving season.
Atlanta won a third straight game in Week 16, 33-16 in Carolina. Matt Ryan threw for 277 yards and two touchdowns, and Tevin Coleman had 135 yards from scrimmage. Julio Jones returned after missing two games with a toe injury and had four catches for 60 yards. The Falcons' offense has been historically good. It is averaging 33.5 points, 10.8 points more than the league average (22.7 points) and 4.4 points more than the No. 2 Saints (29.1 points). The Falcons are 2.6 standard deviations above the mean in terms of points per game, which puts them in the 99th percentile of offenses since the AFL-NFL merger.
In six games against Top-10 pass defenses this season, the Falcons have averaged 30 points. They average a league-high 7.5 yards per play on first down, and no other team is above 6.7 yards. Ryan leads the NFL with a 115.5 rating and has set a team record with 34 TDs. He's also going to blow past his own team mark of 4,694 yards as Ryan has 4,613. He has completed touchdowns passes to 13 different targets this season, an NFL first. Jones is arguably the NFL's best receiver, but when not throwing to Jones, Ryan is 270 of 364, a 74 percent completion percentage with 29 touchdown passes and three interceptions.
If Atlanta can avoid playing outdoors during the playoffs, I give the Falcons a realistic shot at their first Super Bowl title even though I'm still not sold on the defense. They are +850 to do so.
Saints at Falcons Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , Atlanta is a 7-point favorite (+105) with a big total of 56. On the moneyline, the Falcons are -300 and Saints +250. On the alternate lines, the Falcons are -6.5 (-115) and -6 (-123). New Orleans is 10-5 against the spread (6-1 on road) and 8-7 "over/under" (3-4 on road). Atlanta is 10-5 ATS (3-4 at home) and 12-2-1 O/U (7-0 at home).
The Saints are 8-2 ATS in their past 10 vs. the NFC South. They are 5-2 ATS in their past seven after a win. The Falcons are 5-0 ATS in their past five vs. teams with a losing record. They are 7-2 ATS in their past nine after a win. The under is 7-1 in New Orleans' past eight vs. teams with a winning record. The over is 7-0-1 ATS in Atlanta's past eight vs. teams with a losing record. The home team is 7-3 ATS in the past 10 meetings. The under is 5-2-1 in the past eight.
Saints at Falcons Betting Prediction
The Saints are 15-6 against the Falcons in the Payton-Brees era. But Atlanta easily won in New Orleans in Week 3, 45-32. Ryan threw for two scores and Coleman rushed for three. Jones had just one catch and his team still put up 45. Brees threw for 376 and three scores but had a pick-six. This game is too important for the Falcons to blow it, and they can go all-out knowing a bye week is on the table. Doubt the Saints have much motivation. Give the 6.5 points and go over the total.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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