Arizona Cardinals (3-10) at Atlanta Falcons (4-9)
The Falcons have had a disappointing season at 4-9, but their defense got a big boost a couple weeks ago when they got every down linebacker Deion Jones back from the foot injury that kept him out since week 1. The Falcons haven’t won either of the games since he’s been back, but he’s playing well and has resumed his old every down role. It’s obviously a small sample size, but they’ve allowed a 35.64% first down rate in the three games he’s played, as opposed to 44.23% in the 10 games he missed. The schedule gets much easier for the Falcons this week at home against the Cardinals, so I expect their improved defense to be more noticeable in this one than it was on the road in Green Bay.
While the Falcons are getting healthier, the Cardinals are going in the opposite direction. They’ve put their top-3 offensive linemen, DJ Humphries, Mike Iupati, and Justin Pugh, on injured reserve, along with their top receiver Christian Kirk, starting defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, and every down linebacker Josh Bynes. They were already one of the worst teams in the league before the injuries and they rank dead last in first down rate differential at -6.98%, They’re arguably the worst team in the league right now and an underrated Falcons team could easily give them their 8th double digit loss of the season.
The Cardinals are also in a tough spot, because they could be looking forward to next week’s home game against the Rams, which they may view as their Super Bowl. Teams typically struggle before being big home underdogs, going 24-45 ATS since 2014 before being home underdogs of 7 or more (the Cardinals are currently +11.5 on the early line). On top of that, underdogs of 7+ are 31-49 ATS over that same time period before being underdogs of 7+ again, as it’s very tough for an inferior team to hang with a superior team when they have another tough game on deck serving as a distraction. The Falcons are in Carolina next week, but that’s not nearly as tough of a game, so I give them a better shot of being focused. They also have a massive talent advantage, even in a disappointing season, and should win easily.
Atlanta Falcons 23 Arizona Cardinals 10
Pick against the spread: Atlanta -9.5