Week 14 Thursday Night Football Preview: New Orleans Saints vs. Atlanta Falcons Betting Advice
Published on December 06, 2017
With only four games left in the 2017/18 NFL regular season, the playoff hunt is all that matters. And for some teams, like the Atlanta Falcons, it’s do-or-die. But when their division rival New Orleans Saints come marching in to Atlanta on Thursday Night Football, getting it done won’t be easy.
The Saints have won 8 of their last 9 games, and have a one-game lead in the best division in football.
At this point, the NFC South has a legitimate chance to send three teams to the playoffs – the only division in the league that can make this claim. But while the Panthers (along with the Seahawks) have a commanding lead in the Wild Card race at a record of 8–4, the Falcons have to get down to business and make up some ground at 7–5 if they hope to secure a playoff berth.
With the Packers playing the Browns, the Lions playing the Buccaneers, and the Cowboys playing the Giants, there could be four NFC Wild Card contenders at 7–6 if the Falcons lose this game.
Luckily for Atlanta, they have already beaten the Packers, the Lions, and the Cowboys this season, so if they ended up tied with any of these teams at season’s end, they’d get the head-to-head tiebreaker. But don’t forget that any of these teams still need to edge out the Panthers and the Seahawks!
And below, I’ll give you all the information you need to know in order to make informed gambling decisions about this crucial NFC South matchup, including in-depth analysis of the following bets:
It’s now the 4th quarter of the NFL season and playoffs are all that matters. And in this exciting Week 14 edition of Thursday Night Football, fans and gamblers get a front-row seat to two marquee playoff-caliber teams in the best division in the NFL. It should be a thriller!
Currently, this game is getting an even spread: It’s a pick’em, meaning that there is no spread to even out the betting and roughly the same odds whether you bet moneyline or ATS. For this reason, in this game, I’ll combine my discussion of the moneyline bet and the bet against the spread into one.
Usually, when I pick games against the spread, my philosophy involves taking a look at the way that the winning team’s offense matches up against the losing team’s defense.
In my experience, the team that wins the game against the spread is the team that matches up well-enough on offense to be able to score points. For this game, it’s clear that the Saints have the more high-octane offense at this point in the season, so in the discussion to follow I’ll take an in-depth look at the matchup at the matchup between their offense and Atlanta’s D.
After all, Vegas odds-makers generally give home teams a three-point advantage in spread betting simply from playing at home: if two teams are evenly matched, the home team should be -3. Therefore, the fact that this game is a pick’em indicates that the Saints are actually “supposed” to win by a field goal.
In this game, the matchup to watch most closely is the Saints’ offense vs. the Falcons’ defense.
The big story for the Saints’ offense has been their running game, which features sensational rookie Alvin Kamara – the runaway favorite for Rookie of the Year – paired with solid veteran workhorse Mark Ingram.
Last week against Carolina, Kamara and Ingram combined for 248 scrimmage yards, which was only 31 yards less than the entire Panthers’ team.
The entire National Football League is moving quickly in the direction of offensive schemes based entirely around pass-catching hybrid running backs, and the Saints are leading the charge with Kamara and Ingram, who seem to be 1-A and 1-B in terms of skill set.
The stats don’t tell the whole story for the Falcons’ defense. When you look at Atlanta’s D, your first glance shows them having given up the 13th-most points in the game, only slightly above average.
But when you take a deeper look at the stats (and also watch game film on Atlanta), what you find is a unit that is very well-disciplined and good in the red zone, but on the field way too long because of how ineffective Atlanta’s offense was for much of the season, and because of the completely inability of the defense to create turnovers (including an incredible 6 games in which the Falcons generated 0 turnovers).
So far this season, the Falcons have the 2nd-fewest takeaways in the league, with 10 total in 11 games.
Keep peeling back layers, though, and you see that despite all of this, it’s still very tough to score on Atlanta’s defense.
The Falcons are worst in the league on defense on a per drive basis in terms of total time and total yards. However, at the same time, even though the opponents’ drive might last the longest in the league, Atlanta is simultaneously ranked 14th-best in terms of average number of points per drive, indicating that even after long drives, they still hold opponents to field goals much of the time.
If the Falcons have any chance of stopping Drew Brees and the Saints in this game, they’ll need to continue this success that they’ve had at keeping opponents out of the end zone.
However, I don’t think they’ll be able to in this game because of the x-factor provided by the Saints’ two running backs. With Atlanta allowing the longest drives in the league and New Orleans ranked #2 in the league in drive length, I foresee the Saints both dominating the time of possession and winning the turnover battle. I like the visiting team to win in a pick’em.
Pick: Saints to win in a pick’em
Now that I’ve made my pick for the moneyline bet and the bet against the spread, it’s now time to take a look at the question of whether this game will be generally high- or low-scoring.
When picking games for the total score over/under bet, my philosophy involves taking a look at the way that the winning team’s defense matches up against the losing team’s offense.
In my experience, if a team is both able to dominate the game offensively and able to generate stops on defense, they’ll often be able to control the flow and the timing of the game to such a degree that the total score will go under. On the other hand, when the losing team is able to score points, the game can easily turn into a shootout that pushes the total score over.
In this game, the matchup to watch for the total score bet is the Saints’ defense vs. the Falcons’ offense.
This season has been very hot-and-cold for Atlanta on offense. A casual Falcons fan might be confused by what they’ve seen: Two weeks ago, the Falcons had 516 yards of offense and Julio Jones went off for 253 yards. Seven short days later, Jones was suffocated for only two catches and 24 yards, and the Falcons were held to only 275 yards.
It’s true that the Vikings unquestionably have the best defense in the league. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes had one of the best games of his career last week, allowing Julio only one catch while he was in coverage – and that catch was a quick screen pass.
But the simple truth for the Falcons is that last year, their offense could put up points on any defense. This season, that’s simply not the case, even though the players remain the same.
The difference, of course, is scheme: The drop-off in ability from last year’s offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan (who took the head coaching job in San Francisco) to this year’s offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian is enormous and has fundamentally changed everything about Atlanta’s offense.
Matt Ryan failed to score a passing touchdown last game for the first time in 30 consecutive games.
Getting stymied by a great Vikings’ defense is one thing, but when that same defense keeps you out of the end zone the entire game, with all of the weapons that you have available, that’s a whole other thing. That’s a clear case of an offensive coordinator getting completely outmatched by a defensive scheme.
The question then becomes whether Steve Sarkisian will be able to score points on the defensive scheme run by the Saints, or if New Orleans will shut down Atlanta like the Vikings did.
In a rare circumstance, even after 13 weeks of NFL action, the Saints and Falcons have yet to face off this season, so there’s no past matchup to draw on for schematic clues (the two teams play on Thursday and then play two weeks later in Week 16).
But in my mind, watching the tape, I do think that the Falcons will be able to score points on New Orleans. The Saints are dealing with some injuries in the secondary, and Steve Sarkisian showed in the Falcons’ strong road win over the Seahawks in Week 11 that one of his strengths is taking advantage of holes in coverage.
Ultimately, I foresee this game turning into a shootout that pushes the total score over, and I think that it will be a real thriller in the Saints’ first trip to Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Pick: Falcons 28, Saints 31
With only one quarter left in the NFL regular season, the only thing that matters is the playoffs. This Thursday we get to watch two teams from the best division of football duke it out to try and preserve their playoff hopes: New Orleans to try and keep their one-game division lead, Atlanta to furiously try and edge their way into a Wild Card spot.
The fact that this game’s a pick’em despite the fact that it’s being played in Atlanta indicates that the Vegas odds-makers believe the Saints are a field goal better than the Falcons, and I think this is exactly what the final score will turn out to be. I like the dynamic running back combo for the Saints to take care of business, but I think Atlanta will get the passing game going.
In order to profit off of this view of the game, here are my best bets: