Atlanta Falcons (3-6) at New Orleans Saints (7-2)
I have been saying all season that I was planning on betting the Saints pretty consistently once they finally got healthy because they were my pre-season #1 team in my roster rankings and because they typically shake off slow starts, going 4-17-1 ATS in weeks 1-2 since 2010 and 88-57-7 ATS in weeks 3-17. The results were great once the Saints were finally all healthy, including a blowout victory in Tampa Bay, but it lasted less than six quarters before Drew Brees suffered a significant rib and lung injury that now has him sidelined for at least three weeks. The Saints were still able to close out the 27-13 victory over the 49ers and they still have a very talented and most healthy roster around the quarterback, but their projection obviously takes a big hit without their signal caller.
In Brees’ absence last week, former Buccaneers starter and current Saints backup Jameis Winston played most of the snaps, playing 34 snaps total, while hybrid player Taysom Hill played 22, and Winston also attempted all 10 of the Saints’ non-Drew Brees pass attempts, but the Saints seem to be throwing everyone a curveball and going with Hill for his first career start. There have been varying reports of how much the Saints plan to use both quarterbacks, from Hill playing all game, to Winston and Hill splitting time based on certain packages, but it’s clear the Saints plan to use Hill more than they’ve ever used him before, particularly as a passer. Hill has just 18 career regular season pass attempts and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if he exceeded that total in this game alone.
The big question is whether that would be a good thing for the Saints or if they would be better served using their two quarterbacks like they did in the second half last week. Hill has made some big passing plays downfield in his career, but he’s never shown consistent accuracy, he has rarely played as a traditional drop back passer outside of the pre-season, and he’s also had some fumbling problems this season. His athleticism will obviously help him, but he’s a 30-year-old quarterback who has never started and didn’t show much as a passer in college, so this move could easily backfire or cause the Saints to have a mid-game pivot to Winston playing more. Hill will have plenty of talent around him, but this Saints passing game takes a big hit with him starting compared to Brees or even compared to Winston.
The Falcons, meanwhile, are relatively healthy coming off of a bye and, even though they haven’t played particularly well this season compared to their easy schedule, ranking 26th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -1.58%, they could easily be 5-4 or 6-3 if not for blowing three nearly impossible to blow leads. They’re also more talented on paper than the statistics suggest they’ve played thus far and could underachieve less going forward, especially since they seem to be playing better since firing Dan Quinn and going with interim head coach Raheem Morris.
My roster rankings have these teams about even, so with the Saints having minimal fans in attendance for this one, we’re getting good value with the Falcons as more than a field goal underdogs at +3.5. The Saints could still pull out the victory, but about 1 in 4 games are decided by a field goal or less, and I would expect this one to be a close one either way, so the Falcons are worth a bet.
Update: Marshon Lattimore is out for the Saints, despite practicing all week in limited capacity. Lattimore hasn’t played that well this year, so his absence doesn’t move the needle in this game as much as you’d think, but it’s more good news for Atlanta bettors, especially since the line has stabilized at +3.5, rather than dropping to 3.
New Orleans Saints 27 Atlanta Falcons 26
Pick against the spread: Atlanta +3.5