Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles: 2017 NFC Divisional Round Pick

Atlanta Falcons (11-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (13-3)

I’ve gone back and forth on this one all week and I have good arguments for both sides. On one hand, while the Eagles are obviously not the same team without Carson Wentz, they still have a strong supporting cast, including a top level defense, and they are at home, where they’ve had a ton of success this season, especially defensively (13.4 points per game allowed at home). Because of their supporting cast, I picked the Eagles to get a first round bye before the season started and I wasn’t even completely sold on Wentz at the time.

They have a ton of talent on this roster and are above average at every position except quarterback. Casual bettors and fans get fixated on the quarterback position and don’t think Foles has a shot to win a playoff game, betting the Falcons heavily as 3-point road favorites, but even worse quarterbacks like Tim Tebow and TJ Yates have won home playoff games in recent years and they did so with less of a supporting cast than Foles has.

The Eagles also get a fairly easy matchup in this playoff game, as the Falcons finished the regular season 11th in point differential at +38 and 11th in first down rate differential at +1.28%, both of which are 7th among the 8 remaining playoff teams, only ahead of the Titans. The Falcons actually have just 3 road wins by more than a field goal this season, beating the Bears, Lions, and Jets by 6 points, 4 points, and 5 points respectively and in all 3 games the opposing team had the ball with an opportunity to win on their final drive, including drives that went down to the goal line against the Bears and Lions. About 1 in 4 games are decided by a field goal or less, so the Eagles have a decent chance to cover or push even if they can’t win outright.

On the other hand, the Falcons are significantly more talented than they’ve played this season. They’ve underperformed and they are not nearly as well coached as they were last season with Kyle Shanahan as their offensive coordinator, but they still have the same core as last season’s Super Bowl team and they may have turned a corner following their 26-13 win in Los Angeles over the Rams last week, even if the Falcons did get some help from fluky special teams fumbles.

The Eagles had a relatively easy regular season schedule and didn’t play a single game against any of the remaining other 7 playoff teams, so, if the Falcons can play like they can, it shouldn’t be too hard for them to win by at least a field goal in this one, but that’s far from a sure thing. I’m actually taking the Eagles, mostly to be contrarian and fade the public, but this is a no confidence pick. In fact, I think this one has a very good chance to be a push.

Atlanta Falcons 23 Philadelphia Eagles 20

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia +3

Confidence: None

Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Rams: 2017 NFL Wild Card Round

Atlanta Falcons (10-6) at Los Angeles Rams (11-5)

This would be a tough game to pick against the spread in the regular season. This line has the Rams favored by 6 points and I have this line calculated at 5.5, so we aren’t getting much line value with the Falcons at all. However, in the post-season, the Falcons make more sense for pick ‘em purposes because of how much more experienced they are than the Rams. The Rams not only have one of the youngest rosters in the post-season, but their quarterback Jared Goff has never started a post-season game, while head coach Sean McVay has coached in just 2 post-season games, first as a tight ends coach and then as an offensive coordinator with the Washington Redskins in 2012 and 2015.

The Falcons, meanwhile, have a quarterback with 8 post-season games under his belt in Matt Ryan and a head coach in Dan Quinn that has been on the sidelines for 14 post-season games, including 3 as the Falcons’ head coach in 2016 and 6 as the defensive coordinator of the Seahawks in 2013 and 2014. That alone isn’t enough to bet on the Falcons, but, between that and the minimal line value we are getting with them, they should be the right choice for in pick ‘em pools. This should be a close game.

Los Angeles Rams 24 Atlanta Falcons 20

Pick against the spread: Atlanta +6

Confidence: Low

Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons: 2017 Week 17 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (11-4) at Atlanta Falcons (9-6)

This is a big game for both teams. The Falcons can clinch a playoff spot with a win, but if they lose then they would need the Seahawks to lose at home to the Cardinals to remain in the playoff picture. The Panthers, meanwhile, have a playoff spot locked up already and are also still in the NFC South race. If they win this week and the Saints lose in Tampa Bay, they will win the division. This line (Atlanta -4) suggests that the Falcons are the better of these two teams, but I think that’s backwards.

In addition to having a better record, the Panthers are slightly better in both point differential (+48 vs. +26) and first down rate differential (+2.04% vs. +1.31%). The injury situations of these two teams also has to be taken into account. The Panthers are arguably as healthy as they’ve been all season right now. Tight end Greg Olsen and center Ryan Kalil returned a few weeks back after missing most of the season and right guard Trai Turner is expected back this week after missing the last 2 games with a concussion. On top of that, outside linebacker Thomas Davis returns from a one-game suspension.

On the other hand, the Falcons have been one of the healthiest teams in the league this season, but they could be without center Alex Mack in this one, as he hurt his calf in practice and has not practiced since. The Falcons have not ruled him out, but it seems unlikely that he plays and, even if he does, he won’t be at 100%. Outside of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, Mack is their most valuable offensive player, so that’s a big blow to this team. Given that, I have this line calculated at Atlanta -1.5, so we’re getting good line value with the Panthers at +4. Even if the Falcons win, about 30% of games are decided by 4 points or less and about 25% of games are decided by 3 points or less, so we’re getting a good cushion with the Panthers. They are worth a bet as long as this line stays above 3.

Atlanta Falcons 24 Carolina Panthers 23

Pick against the spread: Carolina +4

Confidence: Medium

Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints: 2017 Week 16 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (9-5) at New Orleans Saints (10-4)

This is one of the tougher games of the week for me. We are getting some line value with the Falcons, as I have this line calculated at New Orleans -4 rather than New Orleans -5.5. However, that’s not a substantial amount of line value, given how few games are actually decided by 4-5 points (about 9%). On top of that, the Saints are in a better spot. While the Falcons have another tough game on deck against the Panthers that will have major playoff implications for both teams, the Saints only have a trip to Tampa Bay to face the 4-10 Buccaneers on deck.

It’s not that the Falcons won’t be focused for this key divisional game, but they could have a little bit of split focus this week with another tough game on deck, whereas the Saints can be completely focused for this game. Teams are 45-25 ATS since 2012 before being road favorites of 7+ and the early line has the Saints at -8.5 in Tampa Bay next week. At -5.5, I am picking the Saints, but I would probably change this pick to Atlanta at 6. That’s how close this one is for me.

New Orleans Saints 30 Atlanta Falcons 24

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -5.5

Confidence: None

Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2017 Week 15 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-9) at Atlanta Falcons (8-5)

The Buccaneers have been better than their 4-9 record suggests, as they enter this game 15th in first down rate differential at 0.59%, with 17 more first downs gained than allowed this season. They are just 2-5 in games decided by a touchdown or less and could easily be 6-7 had a couple things gone their way. Their losses to the Patriots, Packers, and Lions (by a combined 14 points) all came in games in which they won the first down battle, but came up just short on the scoreboard.

However, the Buccaneers also enter this game incredibly banged up. Jameis Winston returned at quarterback a few weeks ago, but hasn’t looked quite right with an injury to his throwing shoulder. He is also missing his top-2 offensive linemen, center Ali Marpet and right tackle Demar Dotson, who are out for the season. On defense, the Buccaneers are missing arguably their best two players, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and outside linebacker Lavonte David, as well as defensive end Noah Spence and cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, who have been out for weeks.

This line has moved from Atlanta -3.5 on the early line to -6 this week, but, with McCoy and David both going down, I think that’s fair. The Falcons have a top-5 roster on paper and are relatively healthy and finally playing more like they did last season. I can’t be confident in the Falcons though. We’ve seen the Steelers and Patriots both have flat games on Monday Night Football in tough situations against divisional opponents in the past two weeks and we could see something similar this week, as this game is sandwiched between a pair of games against the division leading Saints on Atlanta’s schedule. The Falcons are still the pick for pick ‘em purposes as long as this line is less than 7.

Atlanta Falcons 31 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24

Pick against the spread: Atlanta -6

Confidence: None

New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons: 2017 Week 14 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (9-3) at Atlanta Falcons (7-5)

Two weeks ago, I bet on the Falcons -9.5 at home against the Buccaneers in an eventual 14-point win. My argument was that, even though they had been underwhelming at times this season, the Falcons still were healthy and had a top-5 team on paper, returning essentially the entire core of the team that made the Super Bowl in February. On top of that, they’ve played a tough schedule and have played relatively well against playoff caliber teams. They have home wins over the Cowboys and the Aaron Rodgers led Packers and a road win at night in Seattle, the same circumstances in which the Eagles just lost. The Falcons have lost in Carolina and New England, but they nearly won in Carolina and their 16-point loss in New England was closer than the final score. Even in last week’s home loss to the Vikings, they kept it close in a 14-9 loss, despite tough circumstances.

Those tough circumstances are the reason I did not bet them last week, as the Falcons were missing top cornerback Desmond Trufant and had to play again in 4 days in this game on Thursday Night Football. The Falcons lost left guard Andy Levitre with injury last week and he’s been having a solid season, but they get Trufant back, which is more important. I still think they are a smart bet moving forward, especially since this line has shifted from Atlanta -2.5 to New Orleans -1.5 in the last week. That’s relatively insignificant line movement in between the field goals, but I still have this line calculated at -3, as I have these two teams about even.

The Saints had some tough circumstances last week too, with top cornerback Marshon Lattimore, left tackle Terron Armstead, and safety Marcus Williams all sitting that game out with minor injuries to prepare for this Thursday Night game. Despite that, they were able to beat the Panthers 31-21, but that game was closer than the final score, as the Panthers botched a punt in their own territory and then extended a New Orleans drive with a personal foul penalty 3 plays later. Had that not happened, the Panthers might have been able to kick a field goal early in the 4th quarter, rather than going for it on 4th and 6 down 14. The Saints only ended up winning the first down rate battle by +0.09%, despite the 10 point win. I think the Falcons are a slight step up in class from the Panthers anyway, especially in Atlanta. The Falcons are worth a bet both against the spread and on the money line.

Also, by request, I’m going to be posting lines I lock in early in the week during my Thursday Night writeups this season, so readers can lock them in before they move. These are not all my picks for the week, just picks where I think the line may move in an unfavorable direction (usually underdogs). The rest of the writeups will continue to be posted over the weekend as normal.

OAK +4 @ KC

SF +3 @ HOU

CAR +3 vs. MIN

CLE +3.5 vs. GB (I’d also take +3)

JAX -2.5 vs. SEA

Atlanta Falcons 27 New Orleans Saints 24 Upset Pick +105

Pick against the spread: Atlanta +1.5

Confidence: Medium

Minnesota Vikings at Atlanta Falcons: 2017 Week 13 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (9-2) at Atlanta Falcons (7-4)

The Falcons have had an up and down season, but they have consistently ranked in the top-5 of my roster rankings all season. They are not as well coached as last season, when they were the best team in the NFC, but they still have essentially the same core as last season and they could be ready to go on a run. I bet on the Falcons as 9.5 point home favorites over the Buccaneers last week because I thought they were undervalued. Under ordinary circumstances, I’d consider betting on the Falcons as 3 point home favorites over the Vikings this week, as this line suggests these two teams are about even and I have the Falcons as about 1.5 points better.

These are not ordinary circumstances though, as the Falcons have to turn around and play another tough game against the division leading Saints in 4 days on Thursday Night Football. Favorites are 64-95 ATS since 2008 before Thursday Night Football, as it’s understandably tough to give your best effort when you have another game in 4 days. The Vikings have another tough game next week too, as they next head to Carolina to face the 8-3 Panthers, but that game is at least on normal rest. The Falcons are my pick for pick ‘em purposes, but this is a no confidence pick.

Atlanta Falcons 23 Minnesota Vikings 20

Pick against the spread: Atlanta -3

Confidence: None