New Orleans Saints (5-6) at Atlanta Falcons (10-1)
On principle, this line is too small. This line essentially suggests that the Saints and Falcons are equals (3 points for home field advantage) and while I agree that the Falcons aren’t as good as their record, I don’t think the Saints and Falcons are equals right now. Using this new method of computing real line and line value I’ve created, which I think makes more sense that methods I’ve used in the past and which is based on net points per drive, this line should be Atlanta -8.5.
How this new method works is this: Net points per drive is points per drive minus by points per drive allowed, points per drive being offensive points (non-return touchdowns, extra points, two point conversions, and field goals) divided by total number of drives. For example, if you score 3 points per drive (that’s a lot actually) and allow 2, your net would be +1. There are an average of 11 drives per game, so we multiply that number by 11 and that team would be -11 on a neutral surface against an average team. In order to compute line value from that, we take the differences between the net points per drive, multiply by 11, and then add 3 points for home field advantage. Atlanta is at +0.62, while New Orleans is at +0.14. 0.48 times 11 plus 3 is around 8.5.
In spite of that, the public is siding with the dog. It’s almost like the Falcons have been called overrated so many times that they’re underrated. Besides, I love fading the public, especially when they back a dog. The odds makers always make money in the long run so siding with them (and against the public) isn’t a bad idea, especially when the public is backing a dog. Odds makers want two things, to make money and for favorites and dogs to cover evenly (so the public can’t key in on just one). The public rarely backs a dog, but when they do, it’s a risky bet.
That being said, New Orleans has had the much tougher schedule. Net points per drive doesn’t take into account strength of schedule, but DVOA (which is a formula heavily based on net points per drive, that takes strength of schedule into account) does. Atlanta ranks 5th in net points per drive and New Orleans ranks 14th, but in DVOA, Atlanta ranks 12th and New Orleans ranks 16th. New Orleans is also playing better football of late and has the momentum. Weighted DVOA (which weights more recent games more heavily) ranks Atlanta 17th and New Orleans 14th.
Meanwhile, Atlanta’s net points per drive is strong mostly because of 3 games: 40-23 week 1 against Kansas City, 27-3 week 3 against San Diego, and 30-17 week 8 against Philadelphia. The rest of their games have all been decided by a touchdown or less and if you took those 3 outliers out, they would be much worse than 5th in net points per drive. None of those 3 games are recent and that trio isn’t exactly a murderers’ row. Kansas City is the worst team in the NFL. San Diego hasn’t been anyone except Kansas City since week 2 (their other wins are against Tennessee and Oakland, also crappy teams). Philadelphia, meanwhile, hasn’t won any of their last 7 games and their 3 wins came by a total of 4 points.
All 3 of those games were also on the road, which is strange because this was traditionally a great home team that struggled on the road. This year, they haven’t won a single home game by more than a touchdown in 5 tries. They’ve won all 5, but they’ve all been close and New Orleans is the 2nd toughest team they’ve faced at home this season, toughest if you believe that the week 2 Broncos (before they got rolling) are worse than these Saints. The other 4 wins came against teams that are a combined 15-29.
There’s only so long you can play inferior teams close before one beats you and even if the Saints don’t win, 16% of all NFL games are decided by exactly a field goal so this could easily be a field goal game, which would cover this 3.5 point spread. The Saints also seem to own the Falcons in the Matt Ryan era, beating them 7 out of 9 times, including earlier this season. They’re also 3-1 in the Georgia Dome, as good as the Falcons normally are there. Those 3 losses are 3 of the 7 losses they’ve had at home since 2008 (30-4 against anyone other than the Saints).
Besides, Drew Brees is awesome as a dog off a loss, going 8-2 ATS in that spot since joining the Saints in 2006. I hate siding with a public dog and I wish this spread was bigger, but it’s a small play on the Saints. Also, unlike most weeks, I don’t like the under this Thursday Night. That generally hits on a short week because offenses tend to struggle on short weeks, but this game features two true franchise quarterbacks so I trust them to be prepared. There’s no play on the total.
Public lean: New Orleans (60% range)
New Orleans Saints 24 Atlanta Falcons 23 Upset Pick +170
Pick against spread: New Orleans +3.5 (-110) 2 units