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Week 7 Sunday Night Football Preview: Atlanta Falcons vs. New England Patriots Betting Advice

By Peter Brooks in Sports
| October 19, 2017 12:00 am PDT
falcons-vs-patriots

In one of the most anticipated games of the entire season, the Atlanta Falcons are headed to Foxboro to take on the New England Patriots, in a Super Bowl rematch extraordinaire on Sunday Night Football.

While many things are different this season – the Patriots have gone from one of the best defenses in the league to one of the worst, and the Falcons have gone from blowing teams out with their offense to eking out victories on the last play – it’s nonetheless true that the minute these teams step on the field on Sunday night, we’ll all be transported back to that crazy game last February.

Super Bowl 51 was unquestionably one of the greatest comebacks in the history of professional sports.

When the Falcons came out with guns blazing and took a 28–3 lead seven minutes into the second half, it seemed out of the question that the Patriots should be able to come back and win the game. Things were so bleak that some unlucky Pats fans actually left NRG Stadium, trying to beat the traffic.

While everyone knows the events that led to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s fifth Super Bowl ring, it bears revisiting, so that we can remember what to watch for on Sunday.

Superficially, the comeback came down to a few key moments: An unbelievable catch by Julian Edelman to keep a drive alive. A missed blitz pickup by Devonta Freeman that allowed Dont’a Hightower to get a key strip sack fumble. A holding call and a sack that pushed the Falcons out of a game-clinching field goal.

But when you look closer at the game, the following factors allowed the Patriots to come back and win:

  • The Atlanta defense ran out of gas. The Patriots ended up running 93 plays in the game, the second-most in NFL history. By the end of the game, a defense whose scheme was predicated on speed and athleticism could no longer keep the pedal to the floor, and plays were missed.
  • The pass rush battle completely flipped. While the Falcons had been putting excellent pressure on Brady in the early part of the game, after they got gassed, it was New England’s pass rush that took over and started dialing up blitzes in the second half. Three key second-half sacks resulted.
  • Kyle Shanahan’s offensive game plan backfired. When the questions came after the game as to why the Falcons hadn’t run the ball at the end of the game, the answer was simply that Kyle Shanahan tried to keep scoring points in the same way they always had. It just stopped working.
  • Bill Belichick out-coached Dan Quinn. Not only did the Patriots play the field position game impeccably, subtly impacting Atlanta’s decision-making, but Dan Quinn also had some questionable placements of timeouts and challenges that ultimately ended up becoming huge.
  • Tom Brady had been there before. Not only was the G.O.A.T. firing darts for the entire game, but he was calm, cool, and collected, rallying the troops even when down 25 points. Matty Ice and the Falcons, on the other hand, showed just how important Super Bowl experience is.

Now, naturally, when you look at the progress that these two teams have made so far in this young 2017/18 season, it’s obvious that some of the things that defined this epic Super Bowl comeback are no longer applicable: The Patriots’ pass rush (and defense in general) is looking terrible so far, the Falcons have had a lot of personnel turnover, and Kyle Shanahan isn’t even with the team anymore.

But even though these two teams have changed a lot from last season to this, undoubtedly some of the trends we saw in the Super Bowl will carry through.

And in this game, even though a routine Week 7 Sunday Night Football game can’t compare to a Super Bowl, there is nonetheless a lot at stake for both teams.

  • Who: Atlanta Falcons (3–2) vs. New England Patriots (4–2)
  • Where: Gillette Stadium. Foxboro, Massachusetts
  • When: Sunday, October 22, 2017. 8:30 PM (EST) on NBC

For the Patriots, this game on Sunday Night Football provides perhaps their stiffest test on defense to date, and after giving up 370+ yards in all six of their games so far this season and 30+ points in three of them, they need to come out playing strong on defense if they’re to have any chance at repeating.

For the Falcons, this game on Sunday Night Football provides an opportunity to take a huge mental step forward. Clearly suffering from a Super Bowl hangover, Atlanta’s bye week has come and gone, and they lost the game on the other side. To walk into the locker room losing to the Pats again would be crushing.

We can’t wait to see this exciting rematch unfold on Sunday Night Football, Week 7 edition.

And we’ve got you covered with all the information you need to make informed gambling decisions for the following bets:

  • Moneyline bets
  • Bets against the spread
  • The total score over/under bet
  • Any prop bets or futures that could hold value

When they set this game up during the offseason, the schedule-makers probably didn’t expect the Patriots to have one of the very worst defenses in the league and the Falcons to be fighting for their very playoff lives at this point in the season. But either way, it should be one very entertaining matchup.

Falcons vs. Patriots Betting

FootballMoneyLine
  • Falcons +130
  • Patriots -150

When picking games straight-up for moneyline odds, our philosophy involves taking a look at the way that the two teams match up holistically, in order to assign a mental advantage to one team or the other.

In our experience, the team that is able to stay mentally tough for the entire 60-minute contest – all the way to the final whistle – is generally the team that ends up ahead at the end.

On the other hand, when a team allows itself to become distracted, and to lose its mental focus, mistakes start to pile up, whether it be errant throws, dropped balls, blown coverages, missed protection assignments, miscommunications, lost battles in the trenches, penalties, and a general lack of gap-soundness and discipline.

And as the Falcons should know better than most, when a team loses its mental toughness and starts to make little mistakes, those mistakes can so easily snowball into a loss.

In this game, we believe that the Patriots will lay claim to several advantages, including home field.

As Pats fans demonstrated quite clearly after the Super Bowl last February, booing commissioner Roger Goodell in recompense for his role in the Deflategate scandal that cost Tom Brady the first four games of last season, the New England fan base is one of the loudest, most dedicated groups in the entire league, and they are a big reason why the Pats have such a big advantage in Foxboro.

Of course, it should be noted that the Pats have already lost two of their three home games this season, one to the Chiefs in Week 1, and one to the Panthers in Week 4.

But we believe that this game will be especially meaningful for the Patriots at home, both because of the high-profile nature of the game (being both a Super Bowl rematch and on national television), and because of the way that a game like Super Bowl 51 can stir up an instant rivalry between two teams.

New England fans will undoubtedly be eager to cheer their team on to yet another victory over the team whose fans they quarreled with so bitterly last February.

There’s a certain energy around defending your home turf against a team that came so close to taking away your Super Bowl dreams. In a way, it’s almost as if the Patriots’ furious second-half comeback in Super Bowl 51 is still ongoing, and Pats fans are still hungry to continue dominating the Falcons.

Meanwhile, the Pats have a whole lot to prove in terms of what kind of defense they can play.

Before we dive into the specifics of what the Pats’ defense needs to do to change things around (a topic we’ll address in the over/under section), let’s first consider the Pats’ season holistically.

At 4–2, the Patriots are tied for the second-best record in the league through 6 games. Nonetheless, Bill Belichick and every member of the Patriots’ organization knows by now that there is no way that they will be able to compete in the postseason if they continue playing the kind of defense that they’ve played through the first third of the season.

Over the years we’ve come to see Bill Belichick use the middle of the season as an opportunity to tweak his roster and change his scheme in whatever manner he needs in order to be successful.

Last year, we saw surprise trades of two of the Patriots’ best defensive players: linebacker Chandler Jones, traded away in the offseason, and linebacker Jamie Collins, sent packing in midseason, just before the bye, after being benched the previous week for no immediately apparent reason.

Bill Belichick is not afraid to play and tinker with his roster, and this is about the time to do it.

The Patriots’ bye week is coming up in two weeks, following this game against the Falcons and another home game the following week against the Los Angeles Chargers.

In all likelihood, if Bill Belichick is going to be ready for whatever bye week personnel movement that he is going to execute in Week 9, then the adjustments that would lead him to make these decisions would need to get made starting this week against the Falcons.

After simplifying the scheme in Week 5 for a quick turnaround for Thursday Night Football and barely eking out a win against the Jets, now’s the time.

And while the Patriots slowly start to gain confidence on defense due to the adjustments by Belichick and Patricia, the Falcons are probably at their lowest.

Last week against the Miami Dolphins (who, it should be noted, have one of the best defenses in the league), the Falcons started out with a 17-point lead in front of the home crowd, holding Miami’s 32nd-ranked scoring defense to zero points in the first half.

But then, as if someone had flipped a switch, it was the Falcons who were unable to score a single point in the second half, meanwhile, the Jay Cutler-led Miami offense ended up doing enough to win by 3 points in Atlanta. Even fresh off of the bye week, the Falcons gave up another 2nd-half comeback.

For a team that built its identity last season around its ability to score points on anyone, this is tough.

We believe that given the context of this game, with the specter of last year’s Super Bowl and the incredible collapse hanging over their heads, it would take a special kind of momentum to be able to pull off a road upset in Foxboro. And we just don’t believe that the Falcons have that in them.

Meanwhile, we believe that even though the Patriots are struggling mightily on defense, knowing how unified the culture of New England is around the vision of Bill Belichick and the fire of Tom Brady, we don’t foresee any sort of chink in the armor out of New England. The way we see it: Super Bowl rematch? Super Bowl repeat.

Pick: Patriots to win

FootballSpread
  • Falcons +3 (+105)
  • Patriots -3 (-125)

Having established our pick for the New England Patriots to win this rematch of Super Bowl 51 at home due to the fact that the Atlanta Falcons don’t have the type of season-level momentum necessary to get over the hump of last year’s nightmarish comeback loss, let’s now turn our attention to the question of whether the Patriots are going to win by more than 3 points.

In picking games against the spread, our philosophy involves taking a look at the way that the winning team’s offense matches up against the losing team’s defense.

In our experience, when a team is both mentally tough enough to grind out a win and they match up well on offense, they will usually be able to score enough points to win both straight-up and against the spread.

However, on the other hand, when a team does not match up well on offense, the opposing team is generally able to generate enough stops to make the game a back-and-forth affair that ultimately allows the opportunity for a backdoor cover.

In this game, the matchup we’re looking at is between the Patriots’ offense and the Falcons’ defense.

With Tom Brady likely the greatest quarterback to ever play the game and the Patriots’ roster stacked with weapons like Rob Gronkowski, Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola, and Chris Hogan, among others, you would think that this season would just be business as usual for the Patriots on offense.

However, this has not been the case: The New England Patriots have looked more vulnerable on offense through the first few weeks of this season than in most seasons past.

Specifically, so far through six games, the Pats are ranked 1st in the league in total yards and first downs, as well as first in the league in passing yards, and 4th in the league in both passing and rushing touchdowns. The team scores the 2nd-most points per offensive drive of any team in the league (behind only the Chiefs) and has turned the ball over the 3rd-least in the league per drive.

But even though the stats look great in passing offense, the Patriots have struggled to run the ball, and their lack of balance has led to issues in pass protection.

So far this season, Tom Brady has been sacked an incredible 16 times, which averages out to 2.67 sacks per game. And given the fact that Tom Brady generally stays in the pocket after a substantial dropback, these sacks cost considerable yardage: So far, the Pats have lost exactly 100 total yards simply due to the sacks on Brady.

The Patriots have given up more sacks on Tom Brady so far through six games than they did in Brady’s entire 12-game season last year, a pace that is not sustainable for the 40-year old QB.

Naturally, part of this added pressure has to do with the fact that the Patriots’ defense has been so bad that the Pats are frequently forced to play from behind, making their offensive scheme more predictable and giving defenses the opportunity to lock in an effective scheme.

But even more concerning for Pats fans has to be the Patriots’ struggles to run the football.

After featured back LeGarrette Blount walked last season, ending up on the Philadelphia Eagles, the rushing attack this season was designed to go by committee, with Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee, Dion Lewis, and James White all meant to share carries.

But with Burkhead missing the last four games due to rib injuries, carrying the ball only five times so far this season, it’s turned out to be Mike Gillislee as the featured back, with Dion Lewis and James White both subbing in as the change-of-pace back.

With Gillislee gaining 290 yards on 79 carries (3.7 yards per carry), and Dion Lewis and James White combining for 250 yards on 53 carries (4.7 yards per carry), the Patriots have been scraping by.

However, the three of these players combined still account for almost 50 yards less than Chiefs’ running back Kareem Hunt has alone, and the fact that the team ranks 19th in the league in rushing attempts (after ending up ranked 3rd in the league last season) indicates that the commitment to and production from the running game is nowhere near what Bill Belichick would like it to be.

Meanwhile, the Patriots may need to run the ball in this game, as the Falcons have been much more susceptible to the run than the pass so far this season.

While Atlanta does rank out roughly evenly in terms of overall yards allowed between run defense and pass defense (ranked 13th and 12th in the league, respectively) when you look at their defensive efficiency in these two categories you see a much different story.

The Falcons are ranked a respectable 4th in the league in terms of net yards allowed per pass attempt, meanwhile, they’re ranked 20th in average amount of yards allowed per rushing attempt.

While the Falcons’ star pass rusher Vic Beasley did return to the lineup last week against the Dolphins after missing the last two games with injury, the First-Team All-Pro selection from last year was extremely limited ending up with neither a sack nor a solo tackle in the game.

As Beasley continues to work back from injury, the Falcons’ pass rush should continue to be limited.

Ultimately, if the Falcons can give up 20 unanswered points to Jay Cutler and the Miami Dolphins at home coming off of a bye week, we feel pretty confident that they’ll give up significantly more points to the extraordinarily sharp New England Patriots.

It’s a much different defense for the Falcons this season after losing a significant number of key players during the offseason, and we believe that the change has not been for the better. After giving up points to weak teams all season, we believe that the Patriots blow them out of the water, and win ATS.

Pick: Patriots to win by more than 3

FootballTotal Score
  • Over 55 (-110)
  • Under 55 (-110)

Now that we’ve established our pick for the Atlanta Falcons to lose on the road because of their Super Bowl hangover and their flashbacks to last year’s game against the Pats, and we’ve also picked the Patriots to win this game against the spread due to the way their offense matches up against Atlanta’s D, it’s time to answer the question of whether this game will be high- or low-scoring.

When picking games for the total score over/under bet, our philosophy involves taking a look at the way that the winning team’s defense matches up against the losing team’s offense.

In our experience, when a team is able to stay mentally tough enough to win, score enough points to win against the spread, and generate stops on defense, they will generally control the flow and the timing of the game to the degree that they will keep the total score under.

But on the other hand, even if a team matches up well enough on offense to score points, if the opposing offense also matches up well, then the game can easily turn into a shootout that pushes the total score over.

For this game, the matchup to look at is between the Patriots’ defense and the Falcons’ offense.

In last year’s Super Bowl matchup, the Atlanta Falcons were able to move the ball so well against the Patriots’ league-leading defense in the first 37 minutes of the game that they jumped out to a 25-point lead. And this year, the Patriots have nowhere near the first-ranked defense in the league.

After giving up 128 total points to the Chiefs, Saints, Texans, and Panthers in the first four games of the season (an average of 32.0 points per game), the Patriots tightened up considerably against the Buccaneers (14 points allowed) and the Jets (17 points allowed), moving them up ever so slightly in the rankings, from the 32nd-ranked scoring defense to the 30th ranked.

Naturally, the biggest reason for the Pats’ “improvement” on defense has been the level of competition, as the Buccaneers and the Jets both have struggling offenses.

The issues for New England on defense are manifold, and not easily summed up in just a single summary statement.

First and foremost, it must be noted that the unit is better than it has shown so far this year and especially better than what it put on tape in the first four weeks of the season. Every defense needs time to adjust, and needs live game reps to develop communication and trust. For the Patriots, for whatever reason, the issues were simply more dramatic than most.

But it’s not just that the Patriots need to communicate better; they also need to simplify their scheme.

Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia is a rocket scientist – literally; he formerly studied aeronautics before turning to football. He is known for running very complicated schemes and engaging fully in the chess match with the opposing offensive coordinator.

However, in this season the scheme had become an issue in the early going. For whatever reason, there was a mismatch between the particularities of the scheme and the personnel that needed to run it, so starting in Week 5, on Thursday Night Football against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Patricia simplified things considerably, playing a lot more zone coverage and focusing on not giving up the big play.

Not only has the simpler scheme for the New England defense allowed the players to play faster and looser, it has also given Bill Belichick a better ability to evaluate what needs tweaking.

As we mentioned above, Belichick is famous for identifying exactly what’s wrong with his team and fixing it midseason, even at great cost. At the bye week last year the Pats booted their best defender, linebacker Jamie Collins. This year, the linebacker position is again suspect, with the Patriots needing a serious upgrade in speed and ability to match up in coverage over the middle of the field.

Whatever the Patriots end up doing personnel-wise to fix the defense, it’s not something that can be fixed overnight. It will be an ongoing process over months.

Even if the Pats do improve slightly on defense in preparation for this game against the Falcons, we think that the bigger danger for the Falcons is that they beat themselves.

Strangely, the Falcons have been showing serious regression on offense, despite the fact that they are one of the healthiest teams in the entire league. While key receiving target Mohamed Sanu missed the last game with a hamstring injury and is questionable for this game against the Pats, he is the only offensive player on the Falcons’ entire injury report, and the team has only three players on IR.

Even while healthy, the team has seemingly inexplicably dropped from 1st to 12th in scoring offense.

The biggest reasons for this dramatic change from last season to this has been twofold. First, the incredible, MVP-level play from Matt Ryan last season was not built to last. After throwing only 7 interceptions all of last season, for a 1.3% interception percentage, Ryan has nearly tripled that percentage this year, already throwing 6 picks through 5 games.

Matt Ryan’s interceptions so far this season have been a big reason why the Falcons are ranked 7th in the league in the number of offensive drives ending in turnovers, after being ranked 31st last season.

Secondly, it’s become apparent that new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian simply does not have the same ability that Kyle Shanahan did last year to effectively utilize all of the Falcons’ offensive weapons. While there’s no reason to believe that Sarkisian won’t be able to turn things around after some more time on the job, so far the results have been lacking.

Ultimately, we believe that even though the Falcons are manifesting their Super Bowl hangover most prominently in the confidence of Matt Ryan and the offense, the matchup with this struggling Pats D is simply too favorable for them to not be able to score points.

We believe that this game will certainly turn out to be a shootout, and would absolutely, 100 percent advise taking the over.

Pick: Patriots 40, Falcons 23

Prop Bets

Now that we’ve established our view of the game, that the Patriots will win this Super Bowl 51 rematch at home, score enough points on the Falcons to win against the spread, and that their own struggling defense will push the game into a shootout, let’s see if we can’t profit off of this view of the game by investing in some prop bets.

Specifically, we believe that the following bets will hold value in this game:

  • Matt Ryan to go over his posted total for interceptions. After starting out the year with two pick-less games, Matty Ice has notched 6 INTs in the last three. Meanwhile, the Patriots started out with 1 turnover in their first two games and then added 7 more. These trends continue.
  • Rob Gronkowski as an anytime touchdown scorer. The Patriots have demonstrated over the last few weeks that their star tight end – when healthy – is easily the most reliable weapon for Tom Brady in the absence of Julian Edelman. Look for Gronk to notch another TD in this one.
  • The total number of sacks in the game to go under. The Patriots’ offensive line needs to start turning things around, and they know it. Against a defense lacking Vic Beasley, they’ll have their opportunity. Meanwhile, the Patriots still have very little pass rush, so take the under for sacks.

In addition to these live props that we’ll get to watch unfold on Sunday Night Football, we would also direct your attention to the following future bets, which we believe also hold value:

  • The New England Patriots to go under their posted total for wins. The Patriots are still the best bet to win the AFC East simply because it’s a weak division, but their win total over/under line has been plummeting. If you can still find one at 11 or 12, strongly consider snatching the under.
  • The Atlanta Falcons to miss the playoffs. While it seems inconceivable, it’s obvious that ATL has a Super Bowl hangover. The team could just as easily by 1–4 as they could be 3–2, and with New Orleans, Carolina, and Tampa Bay all contending, this division could easily crowd out Atlanta.
  • Tom Brady to win MVP. This season, getting no help from his defense and missing one of his key weapons, Brady’s individual value to the team has been demonstrated all the more. And with his odds currently holding good value and Aaron Rodgers out of the race, it could be the time.

In order to take your gambling to the next level, it’s necessary to use every opportunity to study the live game film in order to research potential future bets that you might want to make down the line. Keep a weathered eye out for any clues as to the bets above, and thank us later.

Summary: Best Bets

Super Bowl 51 was easily one of the greatest comebacks in professional sports history, and when the schedule-makers set up this rematch on Sunday Night Football in Week 7, they were certainly hoping for both teams to be looking just as good. Even though this is not 100% the case, due to some serious changes for both teams, it should nonetheless be an immensely entertaining game.

We believe that this Super Bowl rematch will become a Super Bowl repeat, but this time there will be no comeback. We believe that the Falcons don’t have the chutzpah to beat back their demons from last season’s comeback loss, and succumb to the Super Bowl hangover. We foresee New England shredding them on offense, and even though it will be a shootout, we see the Pats winning by two possessions.

In order to profit off of this view of the game, here are our best bets:

  • Patriots -150 moneyline
  • Patriots -3 against the spread (-125)
  • The total score to go over 55 (-110)
  • Matt Ryan to go over his posted total for interceptions
  • Rob Gronkowski as an anytime touchdown scorer
  • The total number of sacks in the game to go under

Since that historic game last February, the Patriots have gone from one of the best defenses to one of the worst, and the Falcons have gone from a world-beating offense to a stoppable one. But even though some things change, some things stay the same, and this game should be wildly entertaining – just like Super Bowl 51.

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