New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons: 2021 Week 18 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (8-8) at Atlanta Falcons (7-9)

The Falcons don’t have a terrible record at 7-9, but all of their wins have come by one score or fewer against teams with a record of .500 or worse, while their losses have come by an average of 18.78 points per game, giving them a -136 point differential that ranks 6th worst in the NFL. In terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, the Falcons rank 21st, 25th, and 25th on offense, defense, and special teams respectively and 28th in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, even worse than their point differential suggests.

The Saints only have one more win than the Falcons, but their 15th ranked schedule adjusted mixed efficiency and their +19 point differential suggests they have been the much better team this season and that is despite the fact that they have been as affected by absences as much as arguably any team in the league. They still remain without top wide receiver Michael Thomas, who has missed the whole season, starting quarterback Jameis Winston, who went down for the season week 8, starting left guard Andrus Peat, who went down for the season week 7, and talented left tackle Terron Armstead, who has played in just eight games this season, but they are also as healthy as they have been in a while. 

Their defense will have the dominant defensive line trio of David Onyemata, Marcus Davenport, and Cameron Jordan together for just the seventh time this season and the previous two games were games missed by stud linebacker Demario Davis and stud safety Marcus Williams respectively, who have both since returned. Meanwhile, their offense got wide receiver Deonte Harris, who leads the team in receiving yards per game, back from a 3-game absence last week, a few weeks after getting feature back Alvin Kamara back from a 4-game absence, while talented offensive linemen Ryan Ramczyk and Erik McCoy are expected to return after missing 7 games and 5 games respectively this season.

As healthy as they have been in weeks, I have the Saints 3 points above average in my roster rankings, while the frequently blown out Falcons are 4.5 points below average, giving us a calculated line of New Orleans -6. That suggests we are getting significant line value with the Saints as 3.5-point favorites and that they may be bettable at that number, though I want to make sure Ramczyk is actually returning before locking this one in. If he does not play, I would need this line to drop to three.

New Orleans Saints 23 Atlanta Falcons 17

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -3.5

Confidence: Low

Atlanta Falcons at Buffalo Bills: 2021 Week 17 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (7-8) at Buffalo Bills (9-6)

The Bills are just 9-6, but they lead the NFL in both point differential (+163) and schedule adjusted mixed efficiency (10.5 points above average) and they could easily have a few more wins, as they have gone 0-5 in one-score games, while all nine of their wins have come by double digits, with an average margin of victory of 23.6 points per game. The Falcons, meanwhile, only have a couple fewer wins, but they don’t have any wins by more than one score, while six of their eight losses have come by double digits, leading to them ranking 5th worst in point differential at -122 and 30th in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency (6 points below average)

With the Bills having nine double digit wins and the Falcons having six double digit losses, a blowout seems likely here, but the spread already takes into account that these two teams are nowhere near as evenly matched as their records suggest, favoring the Bills by 14.5 points. My calculated line is Buffalo -16.5, so we are getting line value with the Bills, even though the Falcons are the healthier team, with the Bills missing top cornerback Tre’Davious White for the season, but there isn’t enough here for the Bills to be worth betting. I would still take Buffalo for pick ‘em purposes, but nothing more.

Buffalo Bills 33 Atlanta Falcons 17

Pick against the spread: Buffalo -14.5

Confidence: Low

Detroit Lions at Atlanta Falcons: 2021 Week 16 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (2-11-1) at Atlanta Falcons (6-8)

The Falcons are 6-8 and technically still in the mix for a playoff spot in the NFC, but they don’t have any impressive wins, as all six of their wins have come by one-score against teams with a .500 record or worse. Meanwhile, their eight losses have come by an average of 20.63 points per game, including six losses by 13 points or more. In total, the Falcons have a point differential of -126, 4th worst in the NFL, and their efficiency metrics are even worse, as they rank 24th, 29th, 28th, and 30th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, mixed efficiency respectively. Fortunately for the Falcons, they get another easy game this week with the Detroit Lions coming to town, sitting at 2-11-1. 

The Lions did win last week in shocking upset fashion against the Cardinals, but teams tend to struggle the week after a big upset win, covering at just a 41.4% rate after a win as double digit underdogs, as teams tend to be flat after such a big win and they tend to be overvalued as well. In the Lions’ case, they have moved from being 6.5-point underdogs on the early line last week to now 6-point underdogs, which is not a big swing, unless you consider that it happened despite the fact that the Lions will be without starting quarterback Jared Goff in this game, leaving overmatched Tim Boyle to make his second career start, a big concern considering how much he struggled in his debut.

The Falcons haven’t blown anyone out this year, but this is probably their best chance to do it, so we’re getting some value with them as 6-point favorites. My calculated line is only Atlanta -7, so we’re not getting a ton of line value with them, but when you add in that the Lions could be flat after essentially winning their Super Bowl last week, there is enough here to be somewhat confident in the Falcons. I think I would need this line to drop to 5.5 to consider placing a bet on the Falcons, but I will also reconsider a bet on this game if there are any further significant COVID absences or reactivations.

Atlanta Falcons 24 Detroit Lions 16

Pick against the spread: Atlanta -6

Confidence: Low

Atlanta Falcons at San Francisco 49ers: 2021 Week 15 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (6-7) at San Francisco 49ers (7-6)

The Falcons are 6-7 and theoretically right in the mix for a playoff spot in the NFC, but they have not been impressive, as all six of their wins have come by one score against teams with a losing record, while five of their seven losses have come by double digits, including four losses by 23 points or more, leading to them having a point differential of -108 that ranks 5th worst in the NFL. In terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, the Falcons rank 22nd, 27th, and 30th on offense, defense, and special teams respectively and just 29th in mixed efficiency.

The 49ers, on the other hand, rank 9th, 14th, 21st, and 10th in offensive, defensive, special teams and mixed efficiency and they are much more in line with the teams who have blown the Falcons out than the teams the Falcons have beaten or played close. My calculated line has the 49ers favored by 11 points, so we’re getting some line value with them as 8.5-point home favorites. Unfortunately, this is a tough spot for the 49ers, who play a tougher game next week against the Titans and they do so on Thursday Night Football. Overall just 40.7% of favorites cover the week before a Thursday Night Football game, so I am hesitant to bet on the 49ers, even though I would still recommend them for pick ‘em purposes.

San Francisco 49ers 27 Atlanta Falcons 16

Pick against the spread: San Francisco -8.5

Confidence: Low

Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers: 2021 Week 14 NFL Pick

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

The last time we saw the Panthers, they were beaten easily in Miami in a horrific performance for the Panthers offense in their first game with Cam Newton under center without feature back Christian McCaffrey, who is out for the season. Fortunately, the Panthers had a bye last week, so Cam Newton will hopefully have a better grasp of this offense two weeks later, still only about a month into his return to Carolina, where he has had to learn an entirely new offensive system. Newton is far past his prime, but it wouldn’t be hard for him to be an upgrade on what the Panthers have gotten out of their other quarterback this season.

It also helps that the Panthers are playing the Falcons, who are one of the worst teams in the league, despite their 5-7 record. The Falcons’ five wins have all come by one score against teams with a losing record, while four of their seven losses have come by 23 points or more and five or seven by 13 points or more, contributing to a -116 point differential that ranks 4th worst in the NFL. The Panthers have the same record at 5-7, but they have a significantly better point differential at -17 and they have a clear edge in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency as well, ranking 24th, as opposed to 31st for the Falcons.

Carolina’s offense has been terrible this season regardless of the quarterback and when McCaffrey has been out it has been even worse, leading to them ranking 31st in schedule adjusted offensive efficiency on the season, but their defense has been one of the best in the league, especially in recent weeks since top linebacker Shaq Thompson and #1 cornerback Stephon Gilmore have returned from injury, leading to them ranking 2nd in schedule adjusted defensive efficiency on the season. The Falcons, on the other hand, haven’t been particularly good at anything, ranking 26th on offense and 22nd on defense.

Despite that, the Panthers are favored by just 2.5 points at home, suggesting these two teams are about even, which is not the case. My calculated line favors the Panthers by five points, so we’re getting great line value with the Panthers with this line being under a field goal, as just 8% of games are decided by 1-2 points, as opposed to 16% by exactly a field goal. However, I’m not going to bet the Panthers for a couple reasons.

For one, I don’t want to bet on the Panthers until I know how much better Cam Newton has gotten in this offense since the last time we saw him, given how terrible he was his last time out. On top of that, the Panthers are in a bad spot, having already beaten the Falcons in Atlanta earlier this year. Divisional home favorites cover at just a 42.4% rate in a same season regular season rematch against a team that they previously beat as road underdogs, as the Panthers did in Atlanta. The Panthers still make sense for pick ‘em purposes as they are the only team in this game with an above average unit in any phase of the game, but I wouldn’t recommend betting on them.

Carolina Panthers 20 Atlanta Falcons 16

Pick against the spread: Carolina -2.5

Confidence: Low

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons: 2021 Week 13 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-3) at Atlanta Falcons (5-6)

The Falcons’ 5-6 record isn’t bad, but all of their wins have come by one score against among the worst teams in the league, while many of their losses have been blowouts, with four of six coming by 23 points or more, giving them a -103 point differential that ranks 5th worst in the NFL. Efficiency ratings show them to be among the worst teams in the league as well, as they rank 28th, 22nd, 31st, and 31st in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency respectively.

In normal circumstances, I would expect the Buccaneers to blow the Falcons out and they easily could. The 8-3 Buccaneers are one of the top teams in the league, ranking 2nd, 9th, 24th, and 2nd in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency respectively, and, while they are not quite 100%, with players like Antonio Brown, Mike Edwards, and Jordan Whitehead out, they are healthier than they have been, with players like Vita Vea, Ali Marpet, Rob Gronkowski, Sean Murphy-Bunting, and Carlton Davis returning to the lineup in recent weeks, with Marpet and Davis making their returns this week.

However, these are not normal circumstances, as the Buccaneers could easily be looking forward to next week’s matchup with the Bills, which lead to them not giving their best effort in this matchup against the inferior Falcons. Add in the fact that this line has jumped to 11 from 9.5 a week ago, as the Buccaneers have gotten healthier, and we’re just not getting enough line value to take the Buccaneers with any sort of confidence, as my calculated line has Tampa Bay favored by 12. They are still the pick for pick ‘em purposes because of their sheer talent edge, but it’s not hard to see how they could overlook their opponent and make this game tougher than it otherwise should be.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27 Atlanta Falcons 15

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay -11

Confidence: None

Atlanta Falcons at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2021 Week 12 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (4-6) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-8)

The Falcons are 4-6, but they are much worse than even their mediocre record suggests. While all four of their wins have come by one score against mediocre at best opponents, four of their six losses have been blowout defeats by 20 points or more. In fact, their point differential of -110 is the 4th worst in the league, even worse than the -103 point differential that the 2-8 Jaguars have. That holds up when you look at schedule adjusted efficiency rankings (which are based on more predictive metrics like yards and first downs per play), as the Falcons rank 28th, 21st, 31st, and 31st respectively in offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency, while the Jaguars rank 23rd, 25th, 28th, and 28th respectively. The Jaguars are missing their top cornerback Shaq Griffin in this game, but their offense will get a boost from the return of their top lineman Brandon Linder.

Despite that, the Falcons are favored on the road in this matchup. It’s only by a couple points, but my rankings have these two teams about even and the Jaguars should be considered at worst 50/50 to win this game at home. My calculated line favors the Jaguars by a couple points at home and, while that isn’t great line value, as we are within the key number of three in both directions, the Falcons are also in a bad spot to boot, with a much tougher matchup against the Buccaneers on deck, which could easily serve as a distraction for the Falcons. The Jaguars, meanwhile, are in a good spot as home underdogs after a big loss as home underdogs, with teams covering at a 59.0% rate as home underdogs after losing by 14 or more as home underdogs. This isn’t a big bet on the Jaguars, but I like them enough to put a small wager on them against the spread and on the money line, with the money line at +110 likely being the better value of the two.

Jacksonville Jaguars 23 Atlanta Falcons 20 Upset Pick +110

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +2

Confidence: Medium

New England Patriots at Atlanta Falcons: 2021 Week 11 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (6-4) at Atlanta Falcons (4-5)

These two teams had very different weeks last week, with the Patriots beating the Browns by 38 and the Falcons losing to the Cowboys by 40. Typically, a team who gets blown out fares better the following week against the spread than a team that wins by a wide margin, as teams tend to be overlooked, undervalued, and embarrassed after a blowout loss and, as a result, cover the spread at a 58.1% rate. However, I am not sure that fully applies here with the Falcons as, while they could easily be overlooked by the Patriots and they could play a much more focused game after being embarrassed, they also aren’t undervalued by the oddsmakers.

This spread has shifted up to a full touchdown from the four points the Patriots were favored by on the early line last week and normally I like to fade a significant line movement like that, as it tends to be an overreaction to a single week of play, but, in this case, I think the line is still too low, as the line was too low to begin with and a significant shift was justified after the results of last week’s games. The Patriots’ win was even more impressive than most realize because, like the Patriots, the Browns are legitimately a few plays away from having 2-3 more wins and, coming into last week’s game, the Browns were one of just two teams in the league to rank in the top-10 in first down rate, yards per play, first down rate allowed, and yards per play allowed. 

Meanwhile, the Falcons’ loss was even more concerning than most realize because the Falcons have faced a very easy schedule overall this season and now have been blown out by two of the three teams they have faced with a winning record, with the exception being a win over the Saints, who are starting a backup quarterback. Aside from their win over the Saints, the Falcons’ wins have come against teams who are a combined 8-20 on the season, with none possessing a record better than 3-6.

Six of the Falcons’ nine results this season would have covered this seven point spread, but the Patriots are much more in line with the three teams who beat the Falcons by multiple scores (Eagles, Buccaneers, and Cowboys) than the teams the Falcons have played closely or beaten (Saints, Washington, Panthers, Jets, Giants, and Dolphins). Their loss to the Buccaneers could have been closer had it not been for two pick sixes, but they also lost the first down rate battle by 7.11% in that game. Overall, the Falcons rank 27th, 22nd, and 32nd in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency, while the Patriots rank 13th, 6th, and 8th. 

Despite their records being somewhat similar, this is a matchup between a team in the top quarter of the league and a team in the bottom and my calculated line has the Patriots favored by 10 in this game, so even with the significant line movement up to seven, we are still getting value with the Patriots. It’s not quite enough line value to bet the Patriots, who could still be in a bad spot against a team who was just blown out and, as a result, could bounce back with one of their best efforts of the season, but if this line moves down to 6.5 before gametime or if Falcons feature back Cordarrelle Patterson, currently a game-time decision, is ruled out, I would recommend betting the Patriots. I will have an update if either of those things happen.

Update: This line has dropped to 6.5 across the board despite it looking unlikely that Cordarrelle Patterson will play. I am going to lock this in now because it could go back up after Patterson is ruled out and even if he plays I like New England enough to bet them.

New England Patriots 27 Atlanta Falcons 17

Pick against the spread: New England -6.5

Confidence: Medium

Atlanta Falcons at Dallas Cowboys: 2021 Week 10 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (4-4) at Dallas Cowboys (6-2)

The Cowboys shockingly lost at home to the Broncos last week, in Dak Prescott’s return, a week after they went into Minnesota and beat a quality team with an inexperienced backup quarterback under center. I wouldn’t put too much stock in that one loss though, as the Cowboys were likely just flat after a big effort with a backup quarterback under center the week before. Even with Prescott missing a game and the Cowboys struggling in his first game back, Dallas still ranks 1st in offensive efficiency on the season.

I wish Dallas’ loss had triggered a bigger line movement though, especially with the Falcons winning in upset fashion in New Orleans, but this line only moved from Dallas -9.5 on the early line to Dallas -8.5 this week. The Cowboys also lost talented edge defender Randy Gregory to injury in the past week, which is another reason this line could have shifted. However, we are actually still getting some line value with the Cowboys, even without Gregory, as I have them calculated as 11-point favorites over a Falcons team that only has a 4-4 record because of a very easy schedule.

The Falcons’ win against the Saints last week was just their second game of the season against a team with a winning record and they were only able to beat the Saints in a close game because the Saints were starting a backup quarterback and were likely flat after a big upset win over the Buccaneers the week before. The Falcons’ other wins have come against the Giants, Dolphins, and Jets, three of the worst teams in the league, and their margin of victory is just a combined 14 points across their four wins, with their four losses coming by a combined 59 points, giving them the 8th worst point differential in the league, despite a weak schedule. 

Unless Dallas is flat again, the Falcons should have a hard time keeping up and, if either of these teams are flat this week, I would expect it to be the Falcons, who are coming off of that big win over the Saints last week, pulling the upset as touchdown underdogs. Teams cover at just a 43.1% rate all-time after a win as underdogs of a touchdown or more against a divisional opponent. I wish we were getting a little bit better of a line, but I don’t expect this game to be close, so the Cowboys are worth a bet this week.

Dallas Cowboys 37 Atlanta Falcons 24

Pick against the spread: Dallas -8.5

Confidence: Medium

Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints: 2021 Week 9 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (3-4) at New Orleans Saints (5-2)

The Saints got a huge home win over the Buccaneers last week, but they still had a significant loss in that game, as quarterback Jameis Winston is now out for the season after tearing his ACL, leaving veteran journeyman backup Trevor Siemian under center. Siemian led the win in relief of Winston last week, but the Saints also won the turnover battle by 3 and had a pick six, which is not a sustainable way to win games, and they lost the yards per play battle by 2.3, which is much more predictive. 

The Saints are in many ways healthier than they have been for most of the season, with a pair of talented offensive linemen in Terron Armstead and Erik McCoy and a trio of defensive starters in Marcus Davenport, David Onyemata, and Kwon Alexander back in the lineup after significant absences, but the downgrade at quarterback will hurt them. Despite that, this line has moved up from favoring the Saints by 5.5 on the early line last week to favoring them by 6 this week, as the public bought into the Saints’ win over the Buccaneers.

The Saints are also unlikely to have the same effort this week as they had last week, now coming off of an emotional home victory, as teams cover at just a 41.4% rate all-time after a win as home underdogs of 4 points or more. It could be especially tough for the Saints to focus this week because last week’s win came against a tough divisional foe, while this week they face a sub-.500 Falcons team. The Saints also have to turn around and face the Titans next week and favorites of 6 or more cover at just a 44.1% rate all-time before facing an opponent whose winning percentage is 30% better than their current opponent’s winning percentage.

We aren’t really getting line value with the Falcons, who have faced just one team with a winning record and whose three wins came by a combined 12 points against teams that are a combined 5-18, but the Saints’ quarterback situation and general lack of an explosive passing game makes it hard to justify them being favored by this many points against anyone other than the worst teams in the league and the Falcons don’t quite qualify. Even if we aren’t getting much line value, the Falcons are worth a small play at +6 because of how bad of a spot the Saints are in.

New Orleans Saints 20 Atlanta Falcons 17

Pick against the spread: Atlanta +6

Confidence: Medium