Just like you shouldn't get overly excited about a Major League Baseball team's surprising success the first two months of the season, you also probably shouldn't read too much into what an NFL team until at least mid-October.
I give you the 2015 Atlanta Falcons as proof of that. Under first-year coach Dan Quinn, the former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator, the Falcons started 5-0, looked like a Super Bowl contender and Quinn was an early favorite for NFL Coach of the Year. But it really was fool's gold.
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Atlanta trailed in the fourth quarter of each of its first three games, vs. the Eagles, Giants and Cowboys, but rallied to become the first team to start 3-0 after trailing in the fourth quarter of each game. The Falcons got to play Dallas without Tony Romo yet still trailed in the fourth. In Week 4, the Falcons got to face a terrible Ryan Mallett at QB for Houston and that was a blowout. And in Week 5 at home, the Falcons should have lost to Washington but won 25-19 in overtime on a Robert Alford 59-yard interception return for a score.
So if you looked close enough, this team wasn't that good. The Falcons would lose seven of their next eight and finish 8-8. QB Matt Ryan's play really tailed off after that fast start, and I think it's fair to start questioning if he's a legitimate Super Bowl quarterback, but that's for another day.
The Falcons were 4-4 on the road last season, 3-5 against the spread and 1-6-1 "over/under." They face three away teams that made the playoffs in 2015, including both Super Bowl clubs. So the road schedule has to be called harder than at home, although the three of the five non-divisional home opponents are very good, too. I don't see the Falcons doing better than 2-6 away from home. Atlanta has a wins total on the season of 7.5 at BetOnline, with the under a -140 favorite. Odds listed below for the home team.
Sept. 18 at Raiders (-3.5): Atlanta is off what I think will be a Week 1 home win vs. Tampa Bay. The Raiders will be playing perhaps their final home opener in Oakland after visiting New Orleans in Week 1. Two great former Alabama receivers here in the Falcons' Julio Jones and Raiders' Amari Cooper. Atlanta has won three straight in series, last in 2012. Key trend: Falcons have failed to cover five straight road games in September as a road dog of at least 3.5 points.
Sept. 26 at Saints (-1.5): Monday night game. New Orleans is off a Week 2 trip to the Giants. This marks the 10th anniversary of the Superdome re-opening after Hurricane Katrina. Atlanta fell in New Orleans on a Thursday in Week 6 last year, 31-21 to start that seven-losses-in-eight-games stretch. Ryan passed for 295 yards and two TDs, but the Falcons never led. He also was sacked five times. Key trend: Falcons 6-4 ATS in past 10 as road dog in series.
Oct. 9 at Broncos (-6.5): This is in the middle of maybe the toughest three-game stretch for any team in the NFL this season as Atlanta comes in off a Week 4 home game vs. Carolina and then see below for what's next. Denver is off a trip to Tampa Bay in Week 4. The Falcons won the last meeting with Denver, 27-21 at home in September 2012. Key trend: Falcons 5-0 ATS in past five at AFC West teams.
Oct. 16 at Seahawks (-10): Yikes! I could legitimately see this being the Falcons' sixth straight loss on the season. Four really tough road tests in five games and that lone home one is vs. the Panthers. Plus, the Seahawks are off their bye week. The big story here will be Quinn returning to Seattle. It's Atlanta's first trip there since 2011. The Seahawks won the last meeting by 23 in Atlanta in November 2013. Key trend: Falcons have covered four straight as a double-digit road underdog against any team (last in 2014).
Nov. 3 at Buccaneers (-1.5): Thursday night game. Atlanta is off a home matchup vs. Green Bay in Week 8. Tampa is home to Oakland the previous Sunday. The Falcons were swept in the series last year, losing 23-19 in Tampa in Week 13 on a late Jameis Winston TD pass. Ryan was 30-for-45 for 269 yards, including a 5-yard TD throw to Nick Williams that put the Falcons up 19-16 early in the fourth quarter. But he threw a big interception on the team's final possession. Key trend: Falcons 2-8 ATS in past 10 as road dog in series.
Nov. 13 at Eagles (-2.5): This is ahead of Atlanta's bye week. Philadelphia is at the New York Giants in Week 9. Atlanta beat visiting Philly 26-24 on a Monday in Week 1 last year. Jones had nine catches for 141 yards and two scores. The Falcons led 20-3 at the half, fell behind 24-23 with 8:37 left and then Matt Bryant hit the winning field goal with 6:27 to go. Ricardo Allen had a late interception to seal it. Key trend: Falcons have lost three straight before a bye week (2-1 ATS; any location).
Dec. 11 at Rams (-3): Atlanta comes in off a Week 13 home game vs. Kansas City. Los Angeles is in New England the previous Sunday. Of course, this will be Atlanta's first game in Los Angeles in a couple of decades (last played there Oct. 2, 1994). The Falcons have won three in a row against the Rams, last in 2013. Key trend: Falcons 5-5 ATS in past 10 at NFC West teams.
Dec. 24 at Panthers (-8.5): Atlanta visits San Francisco the Sunday before. Carolina is on a short week, visiting Washington on Monday in Week 15. The Falcons lost 38-0 in Carolina in Week 14 last season as the Panthers improved to 13-0 (only to lose to Atlanta a couple of weeks later). Atlanta had just 230 yards of offense and four giveaways. Ryan was sacked five times. The Falcons allowed at least an 80-yard TD drive on Carolina's first three possessions. Key trend: Falcons have been a road dog of at least 7 points only three times in series and are 0-2-1 ATS.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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