Atlanta Falcons (3-1) at Denver Broncos (4-0)
The Broncos were on my overrated teams list before the season, but they’ve proven me wrong thus far this season. After winning just 4 total games by more than a touchdown last season (including playoffs), I said the Broncos would have to play better this season to win 12 games and the division again, because they wouldn’t be able to rely on winning close games. The Broncos have done just that, winning their last 3 straight games all by 10 points or more. Their +47 point differential is 2nd best in the league and they also rank 2nd in first down percentage differential.
First year starting quarterback Trevor Siemian has played significantly better than either Peyton Manning or Brock Osweiler did last season, while the offensive line and running game look much better in the 2nd year of Gary Kubiak’s offense. They rank 3rd in the NFL in first down percentage, after being one of the worst teams in the league in that category last season. On defense, they’ve played just as well as last season, despite the off-season loss of defensive end Malik Jackson and middle linebacker Danny Trevathan. They rank 7th in first down percentage allowed, despite facing the Panthers, Colts, and Bengals, three strong offenses.
The Falcons have also exceeded expectations, starting 3-1 with wins over legitimate playoff contenders Oakland and Carolina (the former is 3-1, while the latter is 1-3 and has played better than that suggests). Their defense has been one of the worst in the league (31st in first down percentage allowed), but their offense ranks first in first down percentage, carrying this team. They might not have the best offense in the league all season and their defense is one of the least talented in the league and figures to continue struggling, but it appears the Falcons will be a playoff contender and a tough opponent all season.
Last week’s 48-33 home victory over the Carolina Panthers was easily their most impressive performance of the season, as they were winning big even before Carolina quarterback Cam Newton got knocked out with a concussion. However, they may have trouble following that up, as teams are 52-75 ATS since 2012 off of a win as home underdogs. That’s likely because teams are overconfident and overvalued off of a big home win like that. I can’t say for sure they’re overconfident, but they seem overvalued as mere 4 point underdogs in Denver. That line suggests the Broncos are only about a point better than the Falcons on a neutral field, which is not true. The Falcons have a strong offense, but the Broncos are a much more complete team.
There are two reasons why I’m not confident enough to put money on Denver though. One is the fact that they have to turn around and go to San Diego for Thursday Night Football next week. The Chargers are far from a tough opponent, but having to play 2 games in 5 days is always tough for teams. In fact, favorites are 50-74 ATS since 2008 before Thursday Night Football. The second reason is the injury to quarterback Trevor Siemian, who will miss this game with a bad shoulder. Siemian is one of the reasons why they’ve been as good as they have been offensively thus far this season, even on a run first team. Instead, first round pick Paxton Lynch will start. He didn’t look bad last week in relief of Siemian and actually might have more long-term upside than Siemian, but he came into the league very raw and this is probably earlier than they’d like him to play. He gets a very easy defense to start his career though and the Broncos should be the right side.
Denver Broncos 24 Atlanta Falcons 17
Pick against the spread: Denver -4