NFL Expert Picks Against the Spread: Atlanta Falcons at New England Patriots
The broken collarbone suffered by Green Bay superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers doesn't just affect the Packers, their NFC North foes or any teams remaining on their schedule. It could just as easily affect the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons going forward as they visit New England on Sunday night this week in a Super Bowl LI rematch.
The Falcons (3-2) already own a potential playoff tiebreaker over Rodgers' Packers (4-2) thanks to a 34-23 home win over Green Bay in Week 2 - really the only complete game that Atlanta has played thus far. Obviously were the teams to meet in the playoffs again this year, one would have to favor the Falcons assuming all their key guys are healthy. I'm not overly confident that Green Bay wins the North Division sans Rodgers, meaning the Packers and Falcons could be battling for a wild-card spot. As things stand, I don't like Atlanta to repeat in the South Division, either. However, they are +165 favorites at BetOnline . Carolina and New Orleans are both better than expected, and I still say the Bucs are going to be a factor. Green Bay still plays all three of those teams (Saints on Sunday).
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Did Rodgers' injury also eliminate our only realistic chance of him facing fellow two-time NFL MVP and future Hall of Famer Tom Brady in a Super Bowl? Brady continues to play at amazing level, but the law of averages says some slippage is coming fairly soon with Brady now 40. As much as Brady is getting hit this year behind a leaky offensive line, it wouldn't shock me if he suffers a major injury. That's the last thing the NFL needs with Rodgers, JJ Watt and Odell Beckham all done for 2017. New England (4-2) has taken its rightful spot atop the AFC East and is a massive -1000 favorite there. BetOnline also has a prop on Patriots (+400) vs. the field (-500) in winning Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis on the first Sunday of February.
Super Bowl rematches the following season don't happen all that often with the way divisions rotate playing one another every four years in opposite conferences. This is the second straight year it has happened, though. The Broncos upset the Panthers in Super Bowl 50 (back when it was a number and not a Roman numeral like it always should be) and then Denver beat visiting Carolina in Week 1 last year.
Falcons at Patriots Betting Story Lines
I won't go into major detail about this past February's Super Bowl in Houston, where the game looked completely over late in the third quarter with the Falcons shockingly up 28-3. But then former Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, now the 49ers' head coach, started calling some weird plays. Long story short, the Patriots won a thriller, 34-28 in the first-ever Super Bowl overtime. Brady won his record fourth Super Bowl MVP and fifth ring.
Two things were ridiculous about that game: that the Falcons never got possession in overtime (NFL OT rules state the team with possession first does win if it scores a TD, but that needs to be changed in the playoffs; the NHL has shootouts in the regular season but not the playoffs); and that Patriots running back James White wasn't the game's MVP. No offense to Brady, but White scored the winning touchdown and finished with two rushing scores, 14 catches for 110 yards and a touchdown, and one clutch two-point conversion run. The 20 total points scored was a Super Bowl record as were the receptions.
No two teams have met in consecutive Super Bowls since Dallas and Buffalo in SBs XXVII & XXVIII. Those Bills are the last team to reach a Super Bowl after losing in it the previous year. There's no chance we see a Falcons-Patriots rematch if Atlanta doesn't fix its offense and New England its defense.
Perhaps the biggest personnel change in the NFL's offseason didn't involve a player but Shanahan leaving the Falcons. That offense was one of the Top 10 in NFL history last year, his dumb play-calling in the fourth quarter against New England notwithstanding. The Falcons are way down in points (33.8-24.2) and many other major offensive categories under first-year coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who had one year of NFL coaching experience on his resume (QBs coach in Oakland 12 years ago) yet still got this gig.
New England led the NFL in defense last year but just became the first team in league history to allow six straight opponents to throw for more than 300 yards. I mean, the Jets' Josh McCown put up 354 on that unit last week, and New York might have stolen a victory if not for a hugely controversial fourth-quarter review reversal that turned a Jets touchdown into a touchback and Patriots ball. I can't explain why either unit is struggling so badly as pretty much all the key players are back on both sides of the ball - and New England DC Matt Patricia didn't leave town. I guess both clubs have a Super Bowl Hangover.
Falcons at Patriots Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , New England is a 3.5-point favorite (-105) with a total of 55. On the moneyline, the Pats are -190 and Falcons +165. On the alternate lines, New England is -3 (-130) and -4 (+103). Atlanta is 2-3 against the spread (1-1 on the road) and 2-3 "over/under" (1-1 on road). New England is 2-4 ATS (0-3 at home) and 4-2 O/U (3-0 at home).
The Falcons are 4-10 ATS in their past 14 after a loss. The Pats are 7-2 ATS in their past nine after a loss and in previous nine vs. teams with a winning record. The over is 8-1 in Atlanta's past nine vs. teams with a winning record. It's 8-3 in the Patriots' past 11. The Falcons are 0-5 ATS in the past five meetings.
Falcons at Patriots Betting Prediction
Perhaps Matt Ryan will regain his MVP swagger against this terrible New England pass defense. It sure feels like it will be a shootout - which in this wacky NFL season probably means it ends up 10-7 or something. I'm sure the Falcons want payback but can't see the Pats playing so lousy at home again. Give the 3 points (I'll wait for 2.5) and go over that big total.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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