Atlanta Falcons (5-8) at New Orleans Saints (4-9)
The Falcons have overachieved through the first 13 games of the season, especially on offense, where they rank 9th in schedule adjusted efficiency, but they are switching quarterbacks from capable veteran Marcus Mariota to unproven rookie Desmond Ritter, to evaluate the young quarterback in what is largely a lost season even with a solid offense. Mariota wasn’t playing at that high of a level, but it wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see the Falcons’ offense decline significantly with Ritter in the lineup, which would expose the problems on the rest of this team in a big way.
The Saints, meanwhile, are just 4-9, but their biggest problem has been the turnover margin (-12, 2nd worst in the league), which is not predictive week-to-week, and they rank 13th in schedule adjusted efficiency, which is much more predictive week-to-week. They’ve also been getting significantly healthier in recent weeks and are now as healthy as they’ve been almost all season coming out of their bye week, after being one of the most injury plagued teams in the league thus far this season.
In total, feature back Alvin Kamara (2 games missed), starting wide receivers Jarvis Landry (5 games missed) and Chris Olave (1 game missed), starting offensive linemen Andrus Peat (4 games missed) and James Hurst (1 game missed), stud edge defenders Cameron Jordan (1 game missed) and Marcus Davenport (2 games missed), and talented safety Marcus Maye (4 games missed) have all missed time this season and have since returned, while talented linebacker Pete Werner (4 games missed), talented center Erik McCoy (4 games missed), and top cornerback Marshon Lattimore (8 games missed) could also return this week.
This line favors the Saints by 4 points at home, but that’s not high enough, with the Saints healthy and the Falcons breaking in a raw rookie quarterback. My calculated line has the Saints favored by 6 and that could increase depending on which injured Saints are able to play. I’m leaving this as a low confidence pick for now, but I could easily end up making an update to this pick before gametime, depending on who actually ends up being active and where this line ultimately settles.
Update: Lattimore remains out, but Werner and McCoy will play, so there is enough here for the Saints to be worth betting at -4.
New Orleans Saints 24 Atlanta Falcons 17
Pick against the spread: New Orleans -4