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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, November 20, 2013 at 7:00 PM

Despite sitting with a dismal 2-8 won-lost record, the defending #1 seed in the NFC Atlanta Falcons are uniquely positioned to have an impact on this season’s playoff picture as they prepare for Thursday Night’s nationally televised meeting with the New Orleans Saints.

Every single one of Atlanta’s remaining games involves an opponent that’s currently in the playoff discussion. And, even if a couple of those teams fall by the wayside, Atlanta can still throw a monkey wrench in the hopes and plans of New Orleans, Green Bay, San Francisco, and Carolina.

The talent is certainly here to do that. They still have a quality quarterback in Matt Ryan. In this league right now, that gives you a fighting chance every week. But, does Atlanta have the motivation to play spoiler? In fact, they might have the motivation to do the OPPOSITE! That 2-8 record is tied for second worst in the league right now. Lose out…and 2-14 is going to clinch a very nice draft pick in the summer of 2014.

The toughest challenge for handicappers trying to pick winners in Atlanta Falcons games from this point forward will be determining whether or not the team even cares to get a result. The last four weeks, that motivation appears to be lacking:

Atlanta (+2) lost at Arizona 27-13

Atlanta (+8) lost at Carolina 34-10

Atlanta (+4) lost to Seattle 33-10

Atlanta (+2) lost at Tampa Bay 41-28

Sure, there are some good opponents in there. But, the pointspread is supposed to account for that. Atlanta missed expectations by 12, 16, 19, and 11 points the past month. A team consistently missing the mark by THAT much is a team that’s lost the will to fight.

Maybe the dismal result at Tampa Bay was a low point…and the Falcons will rally to show some pride over the final six weeks of the season. Don’t invest in them until you’re sure that’s going to happen!

Let’s run this week’s Thursday Nighter through our gauntlet of indicator stats…

 

Won-Lost Records (strength of schedule)

New Orleans: 8-2 (#27 schedule in USA Today)

Atlanta: 2-8 (#8 schedule in USA today)

Atlanta does have some extenuating circumstances, having played such a tough schedule. But, New Orleans has clearly taken over the division. And, Carolina is playing so well right now that the Panthers may ultimately be the kings of the NFC South when the season is in the books.

 

Yards-Per Play

New Orleans: 6.2 on offense, 5.2 on defense

Atlanta: 5.6 on offense, 6.0 on defense

Atlanta’s biggest problems this year have been on defense. They’re barely even slowing people down. And, results have often been worse than even a bad number like 6.0 would suggest because the defense disappears in the red zone when games are being decided. That potent New Orleans offense is positioned to have a HUGE game indoors on a fast track vs. this bad defense. Atlanta’s best hope is that the Saints let down off their big win over San Francisco while taking the Falcons too lightly.

 

Turnover Differential

New Orleans: +3

Atlanta: -11

Big troubles here for the Falcons. Their lack of a running game makes them pass all the time. And, passing all the time leads to a poor turnover differential. Atlanta is on the right side of zero…but not quite scary enough to suggest they can beat Seattle in the NFC brackets in January.

 

Market Performance

New Orleans: 6-4 ATS

Atlanta: 2-8 ATS

The market has done a very poor job of adjusting to Atlanta’s collapse. They were priced like a playoff team early in the season…then priced like basically a Wildcard contender even when it was clear they had dropped off. They certainly weren’t priced like a team that would be 2-8 straight up after 10 games. That being said. Atlanta has been losing by so much lately that the market doesn’t matter. If you added a TD to all 10 of their pointspreads, they’d still be 4-6 ATS!

 

Current Line: New Orleans by 8.5, total 53

 

Oddsmakers opened at New Orleans -7, suggesting the Saints were now 10 points better on a neutral field. Sharps drove the line higher! That would suggest that many professional bettors have decided Atlanta is in the tank. Keep that in mind as you make your final decisions.

Has the number over-corrected considering the talent on the field? Or, is Atlanta now focused on the draft and a big bounce back next season? JIM HURLEY has been working very closely with his sources on-site and in the markets to make sure his clients get the right side in the first NFL game of the new week. You can purchase the best from the Thursday schedule (NFL, college football, and the baskets) right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call our handicapping office during normal business hours at 1-888-777-4155.

The remaining big game preview schedule this week in the NOTEBOOK:

Friday: early look at Texas A&M at LSU for Saturday’s CBS telecast

Saturday: coverage of the prime time thriller matching Baylor and Oklahoma State on ABC

Sunday: Denver at New England on NBC (Manning vs. Brady!)

Monday: San Francisco at Washington on ESPN’s Monday Night Football

The man with the winning information is JIM HURLEY…and that means YOU are going to GET THE MONEY!

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