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

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons: 2017 Week 12 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-6) at Atlanta Falcons (6-4)

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, following back-to-back quality wins over the Cowboys and Seahawks. This week they have an easy home game against the Buccaneers, which they have a good chance to win by double digits. They have flopped as big home favorites against the Bills and Dolphins earlier this year, but they’ve also won big as small home favorites against the Packers and Cowboys this season, so they should be able to blow out Tampa Bay if they are focused.

The Buccaneers have won back-to-back games, but they have come against the Jets and Dolphins and neither was an easy win. Prior to those 2 games, they lost back-to-back games by double digits to the Panthers and Saints, comparable teams to the Falcons. Their offense took a big hit when Jameis Winston got hurt, but their defense is very banged up as well. They are missing starting cornerback Vernon Hargreaves and their top-3 defensive ends, including top edge rusher Robert Ayers, who will miss his first game of the season this week. They should have a very tough time with Atlanta’s passing attack this week. Given all that the Buccaneers are missing, I have this line calculated at -13, so we are getting significant line value with the Falcons at -9.5. As long as you can get lower than 10, the Falcons should be the pick this week.

Atlanta Falcons 34 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 21

Pick against the spread: Atlanta -9.5

Confidence: Medium

Atlanta Falcons at Seattle Seahawks: 2017 Week 11 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (5-4) at Seattle Seahawks (6-3)

The Seahawks beat the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday Night Football last week to improve to 6-3, but their season could be in serious trouble. In cruel irony, the Seahawks, always a vocal opponent of Thursday Night Football for safety reasons, lost stud cornerback Richard Sherman for the season with an achilles tear and stud safety Kam Chancellor for the season with a neck injury in that win over the Cardinals. They’ve already lost talented defensive end Cliff Avril for the season with a neck injury, so this defense is not nearly what it used to be.

On top of that, the Seahawks will also be without talented left tackle Duane Brown, who also went down against Arizona, a big blow to an offensive line with serious problems at other positions. Even before the injury, the Seahawks only ranked 18th in first down rate differential. The Falcons, meanwhile, rank 8th, and have a significant talent edge on paper right now too, even more so than when the Falcons blew out the Seahawks 36-20 in Atlanta last season in the post-season. The Falcons are not as well coached this season, especially on offense, but they still have largely the same personnel.

This one is in Seattle though, which hurts the Falcons’ chances of winning, as does the fact that this is a night game. West coast teams cover about two thirds of the time in night games against East coast teams. In the second half of this game, the Seahawks’ internal clock will be at about 7 PM, while the Falcons will be at 10 PM, which puts them at a significant disadvantage. The Seahawks are also in a big statement game spot given all of their injuries and they tend to be a great second half of the season team (35-14 ATS in regular season games 9-16 in the Pete Carroll era). With only an easy game against the 49ers on deck, the Seahawks have no upcoming distractions and could play one of their best games of the season. I’m still taking the Falcons, but this is a no confidence pick at +3. This seems like a field goal Seattle win.

Update: This line has moved significantly since Saturday because of Kam Chancellor being officially ruled out and heavy public action on the Falcons. The Seahawks are now underdogs of 1.5 points. Given that I still see this as a field goal game, Seattle is now a medium confidence pick. They are 7-2-1 ATS in regular season home primetime games in Russell Wilson’s career and get the added benefit of playing a time that’s flown across the country. They’re also in a great spot with an easy trip to San Francisco on deck.

Seattle Seahawks 27 Atlanta Falcons 24 Upset Pick +105

Pick against the spread: Seattle +1.5

Confidence: Medium

Dallas Cowboys at Atlanta Falcons: 2017 Week 10 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (5-3) at Atlanta Falcons (4-4)

Early in the week, I locked in the Cowboys at +3.5 and I was considering them as a Pick of the Week. They’ve played much better since getting top linebacker Sean Lee back from injury and they always play well on the road, going 35-25 ATS since 2010 away from Cowboy Stadium, as a result of the Cowboys’ nationwide fanbase. I had these two teams about comparable in my roster rankings, so getting more than a field goal with a good road team was very appealing to me and I didn’t think 3.5 would stay around long.

I was correct about that, as the line had shifted to 3 by mid-week, but then Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension went back on and left tackle Tyron Smith missed practice all week, so I don’t like the Cowboys nearly as much as I did earlier in the week. Despite that, this line has stayed at 3 so I would not recommend a bet on the current line. Because I did lock in Dallas +3.5 early in the week, this will count as a medium confidence pick. Atlanta has not been playing that well lately, so the Cowboys still have a decent chance to pull out the victory or at least keep it within a field goal. At +3, this is a no confidence pick for pick ‘em purposes.

Update: This line has moved back to 3.5 with Tyron Smith being ruled out. This could easily be a field goal game and the Cowboys are still a good road team, so grabbing +3.5 makes some sense if you can get it.

Atlanta Falcons 30 Dallas Cowboys 27

Pick against the spread: Dallas +3.5

Confidence: Medium

Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers: 2017 Week 9 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (4-3) at Carolina Panthers (5-3)

The Panthers made a bizarre move at the trade deadline on Tuesday, trading #1 wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin to the Bills for a 3rd and 7th round pick. With Benjamin going into the final year of his contract in 2018, it’s the kind of move that would make some sense for a team that is out of playoff contention, but the Panthers are right in the mix for a playoff spot in the NFC at 5-3, making the move a real headscratcher. They’ve already had major issues offensively this season with center Ryan Kalil and tight end Greg Olsen out with injury. Taking Benjamin out of the mix just hurts this offense even more. Their primary weapons in the passing game are now Devin Funchess, Christian McCaffrey, and Ed Dickson and they haven’t been able to run the ball consistently all season.

That trade prompted this line to shift from about -1 in favor of Carolina to -2.5 in favor of Atlanta. That seems like a significant line movement, but it’s within the field goals, so it’s the kind of line movement that likely won’t have an actual effect on the outcome against the spread, as about 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal. With that in mind, I’m taking the Falcons here, as I have this line calculated right between 2.5 and 3 in favor of the visiting Falcons. This is just a no confidence pick though, as we’re not getting much line value with Atlanta.

Atlanta Falcons 23 Carolina Panthers 20

Pick against the spread: Atlanta -2.5

Confidence: None

Atlanta Falcons at New York Jets: 2017 Week 8 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (3-3) at New York Jets (3-4)

Few would have guessed before the season that these two teams would have similar records when they met in week 8, as the Jets were seen as one of the worst teams in the league, while the Falcons were reigning NFC Champions. Even fewer would have guessed these records after the start of the season, when the Falcons started 3-0 and the Jets lost their first 2 games, but the Falcons have dropped 3 straight games since the bye, while the Jets won 3 straight games before losing in Miami last week.

I still have these two teams pretty far apart though, as the Jets are still one of the least talented teams in the league and the Falcons are still one of the most. In terms of first down rate differential, the Falcons rank 6th at 3.53%, while the Jets rank 30th at -5.32%, despite the fact that the Falcons have had a tougher schedule. The Jets’ 3 wins came against the Dolphins, who had their London game on deck, the Jaguars in overtime, after the Jaguars had just gotten back from London, and the Browns, who could have easily won if not for multiple red zone turnovers.

The Falcons, meanwhile, have lost to the Bills, in a game in which the Falcons lost the turnover battle by 3 yet only lost by 6, the Dolphins, who they led 17-0 in the first half before taking their foot off their brake with New England on deck, and the Patriots last week in New England. That 23-7 loss to the Patriots moved this line from -7.5 on the early line to -6.5 this week, crossing the key line of 7, but the Falcons still moved the chains at a 39.29% rate. They just couldn’t cash in their drives, missing a pair of makeable field goals and getting stuff on 4th and goal from the 1.

This line likely would have been at least 10 a few weeks ago, so I like getting the Falcons at -6.5 in New York. They should be able to win this game by at least a touchdown and prove that there’s still a major difference in talent between these two teams. This line opened at -4.5, but heavy sharp action on the Falcons caused the line to increase quickly. As long as the line is still under a touchdown, the Falcons are worth a bet, but I’m holding out hope that this line drops back down so we get more line value. If that happens, I may increase this to a high confidence pick.

Atlanta Falcons 27 New York Jets 17

Pick against the spread: Atlanta -6.5

Confidence: Medium