NFL Expert Picks Against the Spread: New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons
It's fitting that this week's NFC South matchup between the Saints and Falcons is one of the best Thursday night games of the season in what has been a very blah slate that night. It's also the second-to-last one, although I'd prefer to simply ignore the Week 15 matchup between the Broncos and Colts with how bad those two are. There are no Thursday games in Week 16, instead two on Saturday. And there's never one in Week 17 as the NFL doesn't want teams playing on a short week with all the playoff potential on the line.
Drew Brees and Matt Ryan have had some great duels over the years, and this will be their first time playing in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta - of course, the Saints play in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. It's the first of four straight NFC South games to close the regular season for Atlanta (7-5), which really needs this victory (and probably at least two more to reach the playoffs). It currently is seventh in the NFC standings, one game behind No. 6 Carolina. Those two close the regular season against one another in Atlanta; the Falcons lost in Charlotte earlier this year. They go to Tampa next week then to New Orleans before the Panthers game.
The Saints (9-3) already have surpassed their win total of each of the past three seasons and essentially have a two-game lead over the Panthers in the division thanks to a season sweep and that tiebreaker. New Orleans obviously has designs on a first-round bye in the playoffs but sits fourth in the NFC behind the Vikings, Eagles (both 10-2) and Rams (9-3). However, it's quite possible two of those three lose in Week 14 because Minnesota is in Carolina and Philly at the Rams. The Saints don't play the Vikings or Eagles, so any potential tiebreaker with one or both of them could come down to conference record. New Orleans lost to the Rams. I see no reason why the Saints can't finish 12-4. I'll be picking against them here but they should be favored the rest of the way (vs. Jets, vs. Falcons, at Bucs).
Saints at Falcons Betting Story Lines
Atlanta had taken some heat off Steve Sarkisian, the club's embattled first-year offensive coordinator, with three straight wins entering Week 13 and scoring at least 27 in each of those. However, the Falcons were shut down in Sunday's 14-9 home loss to the red-hot Vikings. Ryan didn't throw a touchdown pass for the first time all season and was held to 173 yards. Julio Jones was a non-factor with two catches for 24 yards. Maybe it's all Devonta Freeman's fault? The Falcons went on that winning streak without their No. 1 tailback due to a concussion (he played briefly in the first game before leaving). He was back again Minnesota and had 74 yards on 12 carries.
Atlanta entered the game leading the NFL in third-down conversion percentage but was just 1-for-10 against the league's top third-down defense. It's pretty simple for this team: Score at least 23 points and it wins. The Falcons are 7-0 when they do in 2017 and 0-5 when not. Atlanta played without starting cornerback Desmond Trufant vs. the Vikings as he was in the concussion protocol, but he'll return Thursday.
New Orleans won for the ninth time in 10 games, sweeping the Panthers thanks to a 31-21 score. Once again, it wasn't so much Brees but the team's stellar 1-2 punch at running back in Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, who is now clearly the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year favorite. He had 126 yards from scrimmage and two scores, while Ingram had 122 and a touchdown. It was the fourth time this season they have both finished with more than 100 yards from scrimmage. No running back duo had done that since the 49ers in 1985.
Brees was solid, completing 25 of 34 for 269 yards and a touchdown. He passed Peyton Manning for second all-time in completions. Brees has 6,127 and won't catch Brett Favre (6,300) until next year - presuming Brees does play in 2018. I would guess the only way he doesn't is if the Saints win a Super Bowl and he wants to retire on top like Manning or John Elway did. New Orleans has the potential Defensive Rookie of the Year in cornerback Marshon Lattimore, but he has missed the past two with an ankle injury. He was close to playing vs. the Panthers, though. Tight end Coby Fleener was surprisingly put on IR Saturday after suffering a concussion in Week 12.
Saints at Falcons Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , this is a pick'em with a total of 53.5 . On the moneyline, both are -110. On the alternate lines, the Falcons are -1 (-103) and Saints -1 (-103). New Orleans is 8-4 against the spread (4-2 on road) and 7-5 "over/under" (3-3 on road). Atlanta is 5-7 ATS (3-3 at home) and 5-7 O/U (2-4 at home).
The Saints are 8-1 ATS in their past nine road games vs. teams with a winning home record. They are 16-5-1 ATS in their past 22 following an ATS win. The Falcons are 6-1 ATS in their past seven on Thursday and 5-2 ATS in their previous seven in the division. The under is 4-0-1 in the Saints' past five on Thursday. It's 5-1 in Atlanta's previous six vs. teams with a winning record. The under is 6-2 ATS in the past eight in Atlanta. The underdog has covered 13 of the past 16 meetings.
Saints at Falcons Betting Prediction
This feels like some sort of record in the Brees/Ryan Era of these two playing the first time so late in the season. The Falcons were a vastly superior team to the Saints in 2016 overall and to no surprise swept the season series, both very high-scoring. However, these clubs are not quite as high-powered on offense (especially the Falcons) and better on defense.
I'm leaning Atlanta here simply as it can't afford a loss and it's at home on the short week. Go under the total.
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