Atlanta Falcons (3-2) at New England Patriots (4-2)
The Falcons are skidding a little after a 3-0 start, losing back-to-back home games as big favorites, first against the Bills and then against the Dolphins last week. However, both games were close and they still rank 2nd in first down rate differential at +4.50%. Their record isn’t overly impressive, but it’s impressive that they’ve managed to go 3-2 despite having a -4 turnover margin on the season (6th worst in the NFL). Turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so the Falcons should be better going forward, especially now that they are fully healthy, with edge rusher Vic Beasley, right tackle Ryan Schraeder, and wide receiver Mohamed Sanu back from their injuries. At full strength, the Falcons still rank 2nd in my roster rankings behind Philadelphia.
The Falcons’ loss last week at home to the Dolphins was easily their worst performance of the year, but they were up 17-0 in the 3rd quarter and had a chance to at least kick a field goal to send it to overtime at the end of the game before a turnover. The Falcons were likely just distracted with this huge game on deck. With only a trip to New York to face the Jets on deck, the Falcons should be fully focused for New England this week and could play their best game of the season as a result.
Given that, I like the Falcons a lot this week as 3.5 point underdogs. About 1 in 4 games are decided by a field goal or less and this game figures to be a close one, but the Falcons also have a decent shot to win this game straight up. New England is 4-2, but their wins over the Texans, Buccaneers, and the NY Jets were close games that could have gone either way and they rank just 18th in first down rate differential. They still rank 4th in my roster rankings, but the Falcons are arguably the best team they’ve faced all season.
By far their biggest problem area this season for New England has been defense, as they have had the worst defense in the league thus far this season (41.21% first down rate allowed). For comparison, that rate is higher than any offense in the league, so their defense statistically has been worse than the best offense has been good. If that continues, the Falcons could easily win a shootout. With New England struggling to get any pass rush and missing their #2 – #4 cornerbacks with injury (Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, and Cyrus Jones), that could easily continue this week. The only reason this isn’t a bigger play is because I’m worried that Bill Belichick will have found a way to get his defense to perform at a passable level for this important matchup, but we’re getting too many points with Atlanta to pass on.
New England Patriots 31 Atlanta Falcons 30
Pick against the spread: Atlanta +3.5