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

Atlanta Falcons at Arizona Cardinals: 2019 Week 6 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (1-4) at Arizona Cardinals (1-3-1)

Going into the season, I thought the Falcons had a good chance to be significantly improved in 2019, after their 2018 season was derailed by injuries to key players like running back Devonta Freeman, linebacker Deion Jones, and safeties Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal, who all missed close to the whole season last season. Instead, the Falcons have gotten off to a horrible 1-4 start and rank 28th in the NFL with a -50 point differential, only ahead of the four winless teams.

Turnovers were the problem to start the season, but in the past two weeks they’ve been outscored by a combined 35 points against the Titans and Texans in games in which they had a combined -1 turnover margin. Devonta Freeman and Ricardo Allen have not returned to form after their injuries. Keanu Neal is out for the season again. Damontee Kazee, who was a solid starting safety last year in the absence of Neal and Allen, has struggled mightily in his new spot at cornerback. 

Deion Jones has been healthy and has played well, but, while the Falcons’ defense was not bad down the stretch with him healthy last year, that has not carried over into 2019. A defense that allowed a 41.13% first down rate in 2018 (31st in the NFL) and a 36.36% first down rate in the games in which Jones was healthy has allowed a ridiculous 43.73% first down rate allowed in 2019, which would be the worst in the NFL if the Dolphins weren’t a historically bad team. Their offense actually ranks 5th in first down rate at 40.00%, despite the lack of a running game, but even still the Falcons rank 27th as a team in first down rate differential. Making matters worse on defense, they will be without top cornerback Desmond Trufant in this game due to injury. 

The Cardinals aren’t a great team, ranking 28th in first down rate differential and 27th in my roster rankings, but I still have this line calculated at even, so the Cardinals have a good chance to win this game outright at home. We aren’t getting great line value with the Cardinals at +2.5, but they’re in a much better spot than the Falcons, who have to turn around and host the Rams next week. Road favorites are just 24-50 ATS since 2012 before being home underdogs, which the Falcons almost definitely will be next week. I wish we were getting the full field goal, but the Cardinals should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes and the money line is worth a bet as well.

Update: This line has moved up to a field goal in some places. The Cardinals are worth a bet at that number.

Arizona Cardinals 27 Atlanta Falcons 24 Upset Pick +135

Pick against the spread: Arizona +3

Confidence: Medium

Atlanta Falcons at Houston Texans: 2019 Week 5 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (1-3) at Houston Texans (2-2)

The Falcons are just 1-3, but they should be better than that going forward. They have tied for the second worst turnover margin in the NFL at -5, but turnover margins tend to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. Matt Ryan, who has a career 2.18% interception rate on 6,377 attempts, is unlikely to continue throwing interceptions at a 3.41% rate going forward and the Falcons should recover more than 22.22% of available fumbles going forward as well. Their defense is a serious concern, ranking 29th in first down rate allowed at 40.57%, but their offense has moved the ball effectively, ranking 5th in first down rate at 40.47%, even with left tackle Jake Matthews getting off to a slow start to the season. 

The Texans are a solid team, but I have these teams about even in my roster rankings, suggesting the Texans should only be favored by 3. This line is Houston -4, which might not seem like a big difference, but about 1 in 6 games are decided exactly a field goal and about 1 in 4 games are decided by 4 points or fewer. Even if the Falcons can’t pull off the upset, we’re getting a good cushion at +4.

The Falcons are also in a much better spot. While the Texans have to worry about going to Kansas City next week, the Falcons only have a trip to Arizona on deck. Underdogs are 101-57 ATS since 2014 before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs. At 1-3, the Falcons should be fully focused to try to save their season, while the Texans could be looking ahead to a much bigger conference game. The Falcons could easily pull the upset and have a great chance to cover.

Atlanta Falcons 24 Houston Texans 23 Upset Pick +170

Pick against the spread: Atlanta +4

Confidence: High

Tennessee Titans at Atlanta Falcons: 2019 Week 4 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (1-2) at Atlanta Falcons (1-2)

The Falcons have gotten off to a disappointing 1-2 start, winning a big home game against the Eagles week 2, but also losing on the road in Minnesota and Indianapolis. They’ve been better than their record has suggested though, ranking 11th in first down rate differential at +2.97%. The biggest problem for them is they have the third worst turnover margin in the league at -4, but turnover margins tend to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. Matt Ryan, who has a career 2.20% interception rate over 6,324 pass attempts, is not going to continue throwing interceptions at a 6.74% rate the rest of the way.

The bigger concern for the Falcons is the loss of safety Keanu Neal for the season with a torn Achilles tendon. Neal was not playing well, coming off of a torn ACL that ended his 2018 season, but projections that had the Falcons being improved in 2019 included the Falcons having better health on defense and the return to form of Neal, who missed 15 games with injury last season, was supposed to be a big part of that. Without Neal, I have the Falcons slightly above the Titans in my roster rankings, so this line favoring the Falcons by 3.5 points at home seems about right. I’m taking the Falcons for pick ‘em purposes and hoping they will play more like they did against the Eagles now that they are back at home, but this is one of my lowest confidence picks of the week.

Atlanta Falcons 26 Tennessee Titans 21

Pick against the spread: Atlanta -3.5

Confidence: None

Atlanta Falcons at Indianapolis Colts: 2019 Week 3 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (1-1) at Indianapolis Colts (1-1)

Going into the season, the Falcons were my sleeper contender. They returned a strong offense from last season and still had most of the key personnel from their Super Bowl offense and their defense looked likely to be healthier after key players like Deion Jones, Keanu Neal, and Ricardo Allen missed significant time with injury last season. The Falcons have gotten off to an uneven start, but they rank 6th in the NFL in first down rate differential through 2 games at +5.13%, despite playing a pair of playoff contenders. They lost in Minnesota week 1, but that was largely because they lost the turnover margin by 4 and turnover margins are inconsistent on a week to week basis. They lost the first down battle by just 1.61% in that game and then they won that battle by 8.29% in their home victory over the Eagles last week.

Now the Falcons get their easiest test so far, facing a Colts team that is middle of the pack at best when healthy and that is currently missing their best defensive player, linebacker Darius Leonard, because of a concussion. I have this line calculated at Atlanta -3, so we’re getting pretty significant line value with them at +1. This is also a tough spot for the Colts, in addition to Leonard being out, because the Colts are returning home after starting the season on the road in back-to-back games. Teams are just 28-52 ATS since 1989 in week 3 home openers. The Falcons have a good shot to pull the “upset” and could easily win convincingly.

Atlanta Falcons 27 Indianapolis Colts 23

Pick against the spread: Atlanta +1

Confidence: High