Arizona Cardinals (4-5-1) at Atlanta Falcons (6-4)
I picked the Cardinals as 2 point underdogs in Minnesota last week and they outplayed the Vikings for most of the game, but ultimately lost 30-24 thanks to not one, but two 100+ yard return touchdowns by Minnesota, the first team to do that in a game in 50 years. The first one was a pick six from end zone to end zone, at least a 10 point swing considering the Cardinals had 2nd and goal and could have at least made a chip shot field goal if they held onto the ball. The second one was a kickoff return touchdown coming out of the half. In a 6-point loss, the 17+ point swing on those 2 plays were obviously pivotal in Minnesota’s victory. Between that game and Jacksonville/Buffalo, I had 4 return touchdowns go against me in 2 games that I had big plays on. Hopefully I will have better luck this week.
The good thing about Arizona’s loss last week is we’re getting great value with the Cardinals, as this line has shifted from 3 in favor of Atlanta to 6 in the past week. Outside of those 2 fluky plays, the Cardinals outplayed the Vikings last week and they actually rank 1st in first down rate differential on the season. That might sound crazy considering they are 4-5-1, but they still have a point differential of +36 on the season (9th best in the NFL) despite a -3 return touchdown margin. Those 3 plays, they have a point differential of +57, which would be 3rd best in the NFL. They could easily be 8-2 if not for last week’s two return touchdowns and special teams mistakes against New England, Seattle, and Los Angeles. They have won the first down rate battle in 9 of 10 games and their +67 first down differential is easily the best in the league. In terms of offensive touchdowns, their +9 differential is 4th best in the league.
This week, they get defensive back Tyrann Mathieu back from a 2-game absence with a shoulder injury. He’s a huge part of a defense that allows the lowest first down rate in the league by a good margin (over 1.5%). With Carson Palmer struggling and stud left tackle Jared Veldheer out for the season, the Cardinals’ offense is a far cry from what it was last season, but their defense is even better this year. The Falcons, meanwhile, have a great offense (2nd in first down rate), but their defense has struggled mightily (30th in first down rate allowed). Overall, they rank 8th in first down rate differential, so we’re getting a ton of value with the Cardinals at 6. The Falcons also could be without cornerback Desmond Trufant again this week and he’s easily their best defensive player.
The other good thing about Arizona’s loss last week is it put them in a good spot this week. Teams are 138-104 ATS as road underdogs off a road loss since 2008, including 110-71 ATS when it’s their 2nd of 2 road games. This is because teams tend to do better in their 2nd straight road game than their first one, but lines don’t really adjust for this. Teams are 232-246 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.80 points per game, as opposed to 330-462 straight up in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 3.01 points per game. This is one of my favorite picks this week. The money line is also a great value at +200.
Arizona Cardinals 23 Atlanta Falcons 20 Upset Pick +200
Pick against the spread: Arizona +6