New England Patriots (3-0) at Atlanta Falcons (1-2)
The Patriots certainly have injuries, but the Falcons do as well. They are without starting running back Steven Jackson, talented linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, and have lost starting defensive end Kroy Biermann for the season. Meanwhile, Roddy White is limited with a high ankle sprain and has not looked anywhere near his normal self this season, catching 7 passes for 56 yards in 3 games. Left tackle Sam Baker also missed last week with injury and is listed questionable for this game. Lamar Holmes struggled mightily in his absence last week. The Falcons lost in Miami last week as 2.5 point underdogs and now they are 2 point favorites at home for the Patriots, which essentially suggests that the Dolphins and Patriots are pretty equal, which I think doesn’t make any sense.
The Patriots have had a very easy schedule thus far this year, but I’ve been impressed with their defense. They have allowed 48 first downs to 21 punts forced this season, which is one of the best in the NFL. They haven’t been challenged yet, but I like their chances of carrying that over against real competition. They were 9th in the NFL allowing 20.7 points per game last season with a very young defense so it’s conceivable they could be a borderline top-5 defense this season.
The offense clearly has not been impressive, but if you ignore that week 2 game against a tough Jets defense on a short week, they have 47 first downs to 9 punts. They have a full week to prepare for the Falcons this week and their young receivers will only continue to get better. On top of that, both Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski could return. Both are questionable and there have been varying reports, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if one of them played, though I would be a little surprised if both played. Gronkowski seems more likely to play than not, while Amendola seems less likely to play than not.
Having one of both of them in the lineup, even if they aren’t at 100%, will help open things up on their offense, especially Gronkowski, who is not only more likely to return, but more valuable to the Patriots. Last season, Brady completed 65.1% of his passes for an average of 7.6 YPA, 21 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. In his other 8 games, he completed just 58.7% of his passes for an average of 7.4 YPA, 17 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions. He’ll be especially valuable in the red zone, where the Patriots have struggled mightily by not just their standards, but any standards this season. They were 3rd in the NFL last year, scoring a touchdown on 67.5% of red zone trips. This year, they are dead last, scoring a touchdown on 30.8% of red zone trips.
They should not be underdogs in Atlanta against the banged up Falcons. The Falcons’ 13 wins last year were done largely with smoke and mirror. 7 of those 13 wins came by a touchdown or less as they went 7-2 in games decided by a touchdown or less, something that tends to even out in the long run. It was also unlikely that the Falcons recover 64.3% of fumbles that hit the ground this season. They also faced just 2 playoff teams in the regular season last year.
The Falcons also lost a lot this off-season. They return just 2 starters in their original spot on an offensive line whose biggest strength was continuity, with the loss of right tackle Tyson Clabo being the biggest. They downgraded from John Abraham to Osi Umenyiora and also lost defensive tackle Vance Walker. Now they are getting killed by injuries. They have no business being favored here. On top of that, Tom Brady is 28-13 ATS as an underdog in his career. They’re being overlooked right now and could easily play by far their best game of the season against their toughest opponent yet.
This would be a bigger play or even a Pick of the Week if I knew the status of Amendola and/or Gronkowski and if the Falcons weren’t coming off of a loss. They are 18-4 ATS off of a loss since 2008. They are also very good at home, as Matt Ryan is 34-7 at home in his career and 25-15 ATS and 22-12 ATS as home favorites. However, I feel like this line is so far off that those trends don’t matter as much. The Patriots should be the right side.
New England Patriots 23 Atlanta Falcons 16 Upset Pick +110
Pick against spread: New England +2