Sunday, September 16, 2012

Denver Broncos vs Atlanta Falcons: DEN +3.5 (5Dimes)

Markets

After putting on an offensive show against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Atlanta Falcons opened as -4 or -3.5 favorites against the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football.  Early action has come in on the Broncos and the line now sits at -3.25. You can grab the Broncos at +3 even money or pay 10 cents more juice for the hook.  As the week unfolds I expect that value to disappear on Denver.  I would also make this a play at +3, but for the current price I'm not going to pass up the +3.5.

The Atlanta Falcons or Green Bay Packers

When the Falcons got thumped by Aaron Rodgers in the playoffs a couple years ago they changed their run-first philosophy and drafted Julio Jones. The plan backfired and the downfield approach was riddled with problems last season.

Enter Dirk Koetter. Now that Matt Ryan has some more experience in this pass-first system, Koetter has taken it to next level. Their offense looked every bit as impressive as advertised in Week 1. The KC defense had a hard time figuring out who to pay extra attention to and what to do with Jones.  The entire set of passing options was moved around in various ways and kept the Chiefs off-balance for most of the day.

I don't expect them to have nearly the same kind of success against a Denver defense that isn't depleted as KC.  DJ Williams is out with a suspension, but they have a dynamic duo in Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller.  The Falcons O-line isn't the most athletic bunch and Ryan doesn't have the best track record when pressure is in his face. Last year Ryan was the 18th best QB facing pressure and even worse when you compared it to when he wasn't facing pressure.

Ty Warren is out with a triceps injury, but the Broncos like what they have in rookie Derek Wolfe. Michael Turner's role is in transition so unless the Falcons throw a serious curve ball at us, the run game shouldn't be a primary focus.

The other reason I like this matchup for the Broncos defense is what they have going on in their secondary. Tracy Porter made a big statement in Week 1 and forms a nice 1-2 punch with Champ Bailey.  An even more interesting matchup could be undrafted Chris Harris in the nickel package vs Harry Douglas. Over the middle, Wesley Woodyard is filling in nicely for Williams and should be an asset in pass coverage where he'll have to contend with various formations (and Tony Gonzalez).

Injuries, Injuries, Injuries

It didn't take long until we had one of the most damaging injuries of the season when Atlanta's best cornerback Brent Grimes went down for the year. This opens up a great opportunity for Peyton Manning on prime-time television. Dunta Robinson and Asanta Samuel have their strengths, but both are soft off-coverage corners. Christopher Owens is expected to take the third spot in nickel packages, but look for Manning to hit Stokley, Tamme, and Dreesen all day. After you consider that William Moore and Thomas DeCoud are not the most impressive safeties in coverage, you are left with a secondary that suddenly has a lot of questions attached to it.

The Broncos run a lot of base two tight-end sets which will put a lot of pressure on this Falcons defense. They'll have to hope the front four can generate pressure on their own as they try to figure out what's coming at them next. Demaryius Thomas had a big day in Week 1 and don't be surprised if it's Eric Decker this week.  Peyton is no stranger to the bright lights so I like him in this spot even if they get behind early.

Also, the run game is average at best with the likes of Willis McGahee in the backfield, but Manning can elevate this into a high efficiency ground game simply with his ability to call the right play in the right moment. We all saw how good he is once John Fox let Peyton Manning be Peyton Manning from the second quarter on. 

Bottom Line

Overall I still expect Atlanta to get their points, but the Broncos have the kind of secondary to take advantage of some pass-rush situations and get Ryan off his game. This is such a pass-happy league and these teams are no exceptions. Losing your best cornerback is not an ideal situation when you have a guy like Peyton Manning coming to town. If Brent Grimes was healthy I might reconsider this pick, but since he's out I like the value on the dog here - especially with the extra half point. 

NFL Pick: DEN +3.5.

The rest of my Week 2 predictions are here, or you can find all my 2012 predictions on the home page main menu.