Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons: 2019 Week 14 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (5-7) at Atlanta Falcons (3-9)

When these two teams met a few weeks ago, the Panthers were favored by 4.5 points at home, but ended up getting blown out by a final score of 29-3. Now in the rematch, the Falcons are favored by a field goal at home, suggesting these two teams are about even, whereas the previous line suggested the Panthers were a couple points better. We’re not getting as much line value with the Falcons as we were in the previous matchup, but this line is still off. 

The Falcons have lost back-to-back home games since the previous matchup, first to the Buccaneers and then to the Saints, but they actually won the first down rate battle against New Orleans, despite missing their top-2 receivers in terms of yards per game, Julio Jones and Austin Hooper. Both of those players will return this week, the latter from a 3-game absence. On the season, the Falcons are actually about even in first down rate differential, ranking 18th in the NFL at -0.29%. Their 3-9 record is largely the result of their -11 turnover margin (4th worst in the NFL), but turnover margins don’t correlate week-to-week, so the Falcons aren’t necessarily going to continue losing the turnover battle going forward. 

The Panthers, meanwhile, have also lost back-to-back games since the previous matchup, but that’s part of a larger trend for this team, as they’ve completely bottomed out over the past couple months after a 4-2 start. Since the start of week 7, only the Raiders and the Jaguars have a worse first down rate differential than the Panthers, who are at -7.22%. Their one win during that time frame came against the Titans in a game in which the Panthers lost the first down rate battle but won by 10 because the Titans missed 3 field goals and lost the turnover battle by 2. 

On the season, the Panthers rank just 23rd in first down rate differential at -2.56%, despite facing a much easier schedule than the Falcons (58% opponents win percentage vs 51%). With Jones and Hooper back and the Panthers trending downwards, I have this line calculated at Atlanta -8. A trip to San Francisco on deck looms as a potential distraction (teams are 24-49 ATS as favorites before being double digit underdogs since 2008), but the Falcons are a great value at -3 and bettable at -3.5 as well.

Atlanta Falcons 31 Carolina Panthers 24

Pick against the spread: Atlanta -3

Confidence: High

New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons: 2019 Week 13 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (9-2) at Atlanta Falcons (3-8)

Both of these teams underperformed expectations last week, with the Saints barely escaping with a last second, game winning field goal as 10-point home favorites over the Panthers and the Falcons losing at home by 13 to the Buccaneers as 4-point favorites. That’s not surprising though, as favorites tend to underperform before a short week (44% cover spot all-time). Both teams came into last week playing pretty well too. The Falcons have just three wins all season, but two of them came in upset fashion in back-to-back weeks prior to last week, with the Falcons beating the Saints and Panthers by a combined score of 55-12. The Falcons have also played better than their 3-8 record suggests, entering this game 18th in first down rate differential at 0.22%.

The Saints, meanwhile, are one of the top teams in the league, despite their upset loss to the Falcons a few weeks ago and their close call against the Panthers last week. They only rank 13th in the NFL in first down rate differential at +1.71%, but their offense has moved the chains at a 5.30% higher rate with Drew Brees under center rather than backup Teddy Bridgewater, so with Brees back healthy the Saints are as complete as any team in the league. They’ll be without left tackle Terron Armstead in this matchup, but still have the top spot in my roster rankings without him. 

Despite that, we’re getting some line value with the Falcons as 7-point underdogs, as I have this line calculated at New Orleans -4.5. However, the Saints have added motivation to win and avenge their previous loss, while the Falcons might not be totally focused in a lost season against an opponent they’ve already beaten once. Divisional road favorites of 3+ are 36-25 ATS since 1989 in a same season, regular season rematch against a team that beat them previously as home favorites. There’s also uncertainty on the Falcons’ side with top receiver Julio Jones not practicing all week. Even if he is active, he might be less than 100% and at risk of reduced snaps or in game setbacks. The Falcons are the pick for pick ‘em purposes, but I wouldn’t bet on them.

New Orleans Saints 33 Atlanta Falcons 28

Pick against the spread: Atlanta +7

Confidence: Low

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons: 2019 Week 12 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-7) at Atlanta Falcons (3-7)

The Falcons were just 1-7 coming out of their bye week two weeks ago, but they were better than that record suggested, as they ranked 18th in first down rate differential at -0.29%. Since the bye, the Falcons have won their past two games as big road underdogs against divisional opponents by scores of 26-9 over the Saints and 29-3 over the Panthers. As a result, they now rank 16th in first down rate differential at +0.83%. 

Unfortunately, we’re not getting much line value with the Falcons anymore, especially against a Buccaneers team that is also better than their 3-7 record (18th in first down rate differential at -0.65%). Now favored by 4, the Falcons were favored by 2.5 on the early line a week ago and prior to the New Orleans game I imagine this line would have been around even. Considering 30% of games are decided by 4 points or fewer, including 1 out of 6 by exactly a field goal, that’s a pretty significant shift. I have this line calculated at Atlanta -4.5, so we’re not getting any real line value with the Falcons.

With that in mind, I like the Buccaneers a little bit this week, since they’re in a much better spot. While the Buccaneers have a non-conference game on deck against the last place Jaguars, the Falcons have another game against the Saints, this time in Atlanta on Thanksgiving on a short week. Favorites only cover at about a 44% rate before Thursday Night Football and teams are also just 40-71 ATS since 2016 before being home underdogs of 4.5 or more (Atlanta is +5.5 on the early line). There isn’t enough here to bet on the Buccaneers, but they should be the right side.

Atlanta Falcons 34 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay +4

Confidence: Low

Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers: 2019 Week 11 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (2-7) at Carolina Panthers (5-4)

At 2-7, the Falcons have one of the worst records in the NFL, but peripheral stats have always suggested they’ve played better than the outcome of their games would suggest. Over the past couple weeks, the outcomes of their games have significantly improved, as they pulled off a massive upset as 13.5-point underdogs in New Orleans last week and prior to that they played a competitive game against the Seahawks with backup quarterback Matt Schaub under center. 

The Falcons won the first down rate battle by +8.57% and +6.89% respectively in those two games and now rank 16th on the season in first down rate differential at +0.65%, which aligns with my roster rankings, which have them 18th. They have the league’s worst turnover margin at -12, but that’s largely because of a 31.82% fumble recovery rate (2nd worst in the NFL) and turnover margins are unpredictable on a week-to-week basis anyway. If they can play turnover neutral football the rest of the way, they could easily continue pulling upsets in the second half of the season.

The Panthers, on the other hand, have a turnover margin of +4. They haven’t overly benefitted from turnovers, but, even with a positive turnover margin, they have a negative point differential at -3. They have a 5-4 record, but rank 23rd in first down rate differential at -2.55%, a few spots behind the Falcons, which is also consistent with my roster rankings, which also have them 23rd. The Falcons have some injury concerns on offense, with tight end Austin Hooper and running back Devonta Freeman both out, but the latter was not playing well at all and they get a big re-addition on defense with cornerback Desmond Trufant returning from a 4-game absence. The Panthers, meanwhile, will be without starting cornerback Ross Cockrell and could also be without fellow starting cornerback Donte Jackson. 

The Falcons are also in a significantly better spot. While the Panthers have a much bigger game in New Orleans next week, the Falcons get to return home and face a much easier Buccaneers’ squad. Underdogs are 69-34 ATS since 2016 before being favorites when their opponents will next be underdogs and all three of those conditions are met in this game. On top of that, divisional home favorites are just 29-64 ATS since 2002 before being divisional road underdogs. The Panthers could easily overlook the Falcons this week with arguably the toughest game of their season on deck and if that happens the Falcons could easily catch them off guard and pull the upset this week.

Unfortunately, we’ve lost some line value with the Falcons since last week, with the Falcons going from +7 on the early line to +4.5 this week, but I have the Falcons a couple points better in my rankings and I have this line calculated at even as a result. About 30% of games are decided by 4 points or fewer, so we’re still getting good protection in case the Falcons can’t pull the upset, but I like the Falcons chances of winning straight up as well, in such a great spot. This is my Pick of the Week.

Atlanta Falcons 30 Carolina Panthers 27 Upset Pick +175

Pick against the spread: Atlanta +4.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints: 2019 Week 10 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (1-7) at New Orleans Saints (7-1)

This was one of the tougher games of the week to decide. On one hand, the Saints are arguably the top team in the league. They’ve gone 7-1, despite Drew Brees only playing about nine quarters all season. Their defense ranks 5th in first down rate differential at 33.05% and has been even better over the past 5 games at 27.90%, since the return of defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins from injury. They’re at home this week for a 1-win Falcons team and could easily get a multi-touchdown blowout win and cover this 13.5-point line.

On the other hand, the Falcons have statistically been better this season than their record, especially in garbage time, which really matters for a line this big. They rank 18th in first down rate differential at -0.29%, struggling to win games primarily because of a -11 turnover margin that is the second worst in the NFL. Their defense ranks dead last in the NFL at 41.70%, but their offense ranks 2nd in first down rate at 41.41%, even moving the ball effectively with Matt Schaub under center in their last game (45.07% first down rate). Now with Matt Ryan back healthy, they could keep this game close, even against a top level opponent. My calculated line is New Orleans -13, so we’re getting a tiny bit of line value with the Falcons, but that’s it.

New Orleans Saints 33 Atlanta Falcons 20

Pick against the spread: Atlanta +13.5

Confidence: None

Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons: 2019 Week 8 NFL Pick

Seattle Seahawks (5-2) at Atlanta Falcons (1-6)

Things have gone from bad to worse in the Falcons’ wildly disappointing 2019 season, as the Falcons not only lost at home in convincing fashion to the Rams last week, but they also lost quarterback Matt Ryan to an ankle injury. With head coach Dan Quinn likely coaching for his job ahead of the Falcons’ bye week next week, it looked like Ryan was going to play at less than 100% in an otherwise meaningless game, but they couldn’t get him ready for action and will turn to backup Matt Schaub instead, snapping Matt Ryan’s 154-game consecutive start streak, the 5th longest streak in NFL history.

As disappointing as this season as been for the Falcons as a whole, Matt Ryan has still produced at a high level, completing 70.9% of his passes for an average of 7.61 YPA, 15 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions, while leading the Falcons to a 40.82% first down rate that ranks 5th in the NFL. Now they’ll have to turn to a backup in Matt Schaub who is one of the worst in the NFL. Schaub is plenty experienced with 92 career starts, but he hasn’t been a productive starter since 2012 and, now in his age 38 season, has thrown just 16 regular season passes since his last regular season start in 2015.

Ryan gets a lot of help from a strong receiving corps, but has been pressured on 37.7% of his dropbacks, above the league average, and the Falcons rank just 25th in yards per carry with 3.66, so Schaub doesn’t have a great supporting cast, especially with Mohamed Sanu getting traded. The bigger problem is the defense, which has allowed opponents to move the chains at a 42.13% rate and has not allowed the Falcons’ offense to keep up, especially with top cornerback Desmond Trufant sidelined with an injury. Now without Ryan, the Falcons suddenly have major problems on both sides of the ball.

Despite that, I am actually taking the Falcons as 8.5-point home underdogs this week, although that’s more of a fade of the Seahawks than anything. The Seahawks are 5-2, but four of their five wins have come by 4 points or fewer, including narrow victories over the Bengals and Steelers, who are a combined 2-11. Even with the Falcons in the bottom-5 of my roster rankings without Ryan, I still have the Seahawks calculated as just touchdown favorites, as there’s a good chance the Falcons are able to give the Seahawks a game like almost everyone else has. That’s not nearly enough line value to bet on Matt Schaub with any confidence this week, especially since the Falcons could quit on their lameduck coach if they get down big early, but the Falcons are the pick for pick ‘em purposes.

Seattle Seahawks 24 Atlanta Falcons 16

Pick against the spread: Atlanta +8.5

Confidence: None

Los Angeles Rams at Atlanta Falcons: 2019 Week 7 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (3-3) at Atlanta Falcons (1-5)

The Rams made a splash move this week to acquire cornerback Jalen Ramsey from the Jaguars for a pair of first round picks, but they still have significant problems on this team. One problem is edge defender, where Clay Matthews remains out with a broken jaw, but the biggest problem area is the offensive line, where they are getting worse play at all five spots across the line as compared to last year. 

They lost their starting left guard and starting center this off-season and have gotten terrible play from their replacements, while left tackle Andrew Whitworth is showing his age in his age 38 season, right guard Austin Blythe has played through injuries and has regressed after a breakout 2018 season, and right tackle Rob Havenstein has relatively been a disappointment as well. Quarterback Jared Goff, who has always struggled under pressure, has had an underwhelming season as a result of their suddenly poor offensive line play. 

On top of their concerns at edge rusher and on the offensive line, acquiring Ramsey really just allows them to tread water at the cornerback position, as the Rams started the season with a solid outside cornerback duo of Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, but lost Talib with an injury and then traded Peters to Baltimore prior to acquiring Ramsey. Even if Ramsey can lock down one receiver by himself, opposing passers can just pick on fellow starting cornerback Troy Hill, a career backup and special teamer. 

Ramsey, who will have had little practice time with the Rams prior to this game in Atlanta, does not make this is a good secondary by himself, especially with safety John Johnson also going down with injury. Obviously having Ramsey is better than not, but anyone expecting him to turn this team around by himself is going to be disappointed. Some of their games could have gone either way, but the Rams’ 3-3 record is about right for how they’ve played, as they rank just 14th in first down rate differential at +1.47%. Even with Ramsey, they might not be much better than that going forward. 

This game in Atlanta seems like an easy way for the Rams to get back on track at first glance, as the Falcons are just 1-5, but they’ve played better than that suggests. They’ve struggled with turnovers, ranking 5th worst in fumble recovery rate at 31.25% and tied for 4th worst in turnover margin at -5, but turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. In terms of first down rate differential, they rank 19th at -0.98%. 

Their defense has been horrendous, allowing opponents to move the chains at a 43.50% rate, only behind the Dolphins for worst in the league, but their offense has moved the ball well, ranking 3rd in first down rate at 42.53%. The Rams are favored here by a field goal, but I have this line calculated at even, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Falcons pull the upset at home. I don’t want to make a huge bet on the Falcons because their defense has been so awful, especially without top cornerback Desmond Trufant, but this offense has the firepower to keep a shootout close, so they’re worth a bet if you can get the full field goal.

Atlanta Falcons 31 Los Angeles Rams 30 Upset Pick +140

Pick against the spread: Falcons +3

Confidence: Medium