Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, September 28, 2013 at 7:00 PM
It’s not surprising that the New England Patriots are undefeated three games into the 2013 season. But, the team, fans, and bettors may be in for a big surprise when the Pats step up in class to face their first quality opponent. You can bluff your way with an inconsistent lineup through the likes of Buffalo, the NY Jets, and Tampa Bay. Can you win on the road against last year’s #1 seed from the NFC with an offense that’s still getting to know each other?
That’s the issue handicappers and sports bettors will be dealing with as they try to assess this week’s Sunday Night game on NBC. Can the team that barely beat the Bills and Jets lift their game against the Falcons? Let’s run through some quick facts and stats…
Won-Lost Records (opponents so far)
New England: 3-0 (Buffalo, NYJ, Tampa Bay)
Atlanta: 1-2 (New Orleans, St. Louis, Miami)
If you flipped schedules, you might just flip records. Atlanta would surely be favored over the Bills, Jets, and Bucs. New England’s current form doesn’t suggest they would have won at New Orleans, or at Miami…the sites of Atlanta’s two losses. This is one of the most extreme “strength of schedule” discrepancies of the whole fourth weekend. New England’s faced two rookie quarterbacks and a guy struggling so badly he was about to get benched. Two-thirds of the Atlanta schedule came on the road against hot teams (who happened to play each other Monday Night in a game we’ll preview the next time we’re together!).
Yards-Per Play to Date
New England: 4.5 on offense, 4.7 on defense
Atlanta: 6.2 on offense, 5.8 on defense
Now…this is where strength of schedule becomes important. New England has a negative differential despite playing a very soft schedule. Atlanta has a positive differential despite playing a much tougher slate. If Atlanta was +0.4 in yards-per-play differential against a good schedule, what would they have been against an easy one? If New England was negative here (which is astounding given Tom Brady’s history), how ugly might things have gotten at New Orleans or at Tampa Bay?
New England: +3
At least the Patriots are still getting the best of it in the risk/reward area. That’s a hallmark of the Belichick/Brady era. They protect the ball well. Then the defense takes advantage of opponents who have to throw all the time in hurry-up mode. The Patriots by themselves have helped destroy the “turnovers are random” nonsense that permeated handicapping media for many years. Atlanta is break even, which isn’t bad considering their schedule. They would project to a positive differential against a full season balanced schedule.
New England: 1-2 ATS
Atlanta: 1-2 ATS
Oddsmakers have technically overrated both, though Atlanta would have been 2-1 straight up and ATS if they had finished off a last second drive in New Orleans with a TD. It’s more fair to say that oddsmakers have pegged Atlanta correctly, while overshooting the mark with the Pats. New England was way too high priced vs. Buffalo and the Jets…and really weren’t that impressive statistically when they beat the down-in-the-dumps Bucs last Sunday.
Current Line: Atlanta by 2, total 49.5
Home field advantage is usually worth three points in the NFL. This price is suggesting that New England is the better team. That’s not a case you can make based on statistics accumulated so far. But, the Patriots are starting to get some key players back from injury…and Tom Brady deserves respect as an underdog even if he’s not in his best form at the moment.
JIM HURLEY has been working very hard on this game. He knows that the stats suggest Atlanta by at least a touchdown, but that intangibles and other factors would show New England positioned to pull off a minor upset. Sunday Nights are very important to Las Vegas bettors because they can press up daytime winnings to set up a major Monday score. He’ll make sure you get the right side or total in this one!
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Back with you tomorrow to preview that Dolphins/Saints game that everyone is looking forward to. We’ll preview the Major League Baseball Wildcard games for you Tuesday and Wednesday, before resuming our big game football outlines Thursday.
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