Thursday, October 4, 2012

NFL Predictions 2012 Week 5: Falcons vs Redskins

Atlanta Falcons vs Washington Redskins: ATL -3 (5Dimes)

Markets

This is one of those funny games that the books just throw their hands up in the air and say "I give up".  The offseason line was Atlanta -1.5.  The look-ahead line after Week 3 was Atlanta -3.5.  Given the nail-biter win by the Falcons in Week 4 and the last second road win by the Redskins, they settled on -3 and it hasn't budged since.  Yet, I like there is some value on the Falcons for a few different reasons.

Passing vs Rushing

It's no longer a secret that the new NFL is a passing league, and after failing at the transition last year, the Falcons have completed the move this season with the help of Dirk Koetter.

This is bad news if you're a Redskins fan. Their pass defense ranks near the bottom of the league, while the Falcons pass attack is near the top.  The best way to slow it down would be to get Matt Ryan off his game and disrupt his timing.

Can Washington rush the passer without Carriker and Orakpo? The Panthers managed to get seven sacks last week without a reputation for it.  However, keep in mind the Falcons only gave up four sacks in the previous three games before that. To just assume that the Falcons pass protection is suddenly going to implode would be a bit premature. 

Instead, Skins fans should be more worried about how they are going to slow down this vaunted passing attack.  White and Jones not only have an advantage in ability, but their height advantage over the Skins corners could prove costly as well. Jim Haslett has tried every schematic formation in his bag of tricks to stop opposing passers, but nothing has worked.

Meanwhile, Washington will have some significant advantages of their own.  Atlanta might be 4-0 and the darlings of the NFC, but they are not without flaws.  They've given up far too many rushing yards and haven't been able to get off the field on third down, or stop teams in the red zone.

For me, this is a red flag.  I saw the same thing happen to the Falcons last year, the only difference being they didn't have the same vaunted offense to compensate.

This plays right into Washington's strengths. Morris is benefiting greatly from RG3's dynamic rushing ability and it's really paying off in the red zone. Teams can call the perfect defense, blanket things across the board, and RG3 makes a couple moves and walks into the end zone. 

Having said that, when given the choice between a strong rushing attack and a strong passing attack, I'm going to go with the passing every time.

Devil is in the Details

Over the course of a season, there isn't a lot that seperates the great from the good.  Sometimes there isn't a lot that separates the great from the poor.  That's the beauty of the NFL.

So here are a few things that don't get a lot of attention in the media.

The Falcons have a clear edge in the trenches. Last week notwithstanding, Atlanta has a more stable offensive line, as well as a more consistent pass rush.  The NFL is a complicated game, but often times the outcomes of games can be narrowed down to something as simple as who controls the game on the line.

Next, Atlanta ranks near the top in net average field position, offensive drive success, and offensive penalties.  In contrast, the Skins rank near the middle to bottom in the same categories.  When you consistently start off with a shorter field, don't shoot yourself in the foot with penalties, and convert third downs regularly, you're going to put up points in this league.

Lastly, the Redskins are having serious issues at kicker.  Billy Cundiff missed three field goals last week bringing his total to 6 for 10 on the season. He's missed one from 30-39, 40-40, and both beyond 50 (the reason the Ravens cut him).  If it wasn't for his last second kick to win the game vs Tampa Bay, he'd be on the street right now.  

Bottom Line

Add it all up and there's no question why the Falcons are the better team right now.  They excel in the passing game and do most of the little things very well.  Conversely, the Redskins are relying much more on what RG3 can bring to the table each week.  He has fantastic talent and it might be foolish to bet against him, but he doesn't have the kind of defense to give him a lot of room for error right now.  I'll lay the points and roll with a known commodity.

NFL Pick: ATL -3.

The rest of my Week 5 predictions are here, or you can find all my 2012 predictions on the home page main menu.