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Thursday, November 21, 2013

NFL Preview 2013 Week 12: Saints vs Falcons

New Orleans Saints vs Atlanta Falcons

Market Watch

At the start of the season I don't think anybody would have predicted that the Saints would be as high as 10 point favorites over the Falcons for this game. Atlanta are playing at home and have a healthy Matt Ryan, but nobody out there have any faith in them.

This game was -6.5 a week ago in the advanced line, reopened at -7 after the weekend, and got bet up to -9/-10 soon after. We are seeing some last minute line movement as -8.5's and -8's are now popping up.

There aren't many teams that the public love as much as the Saints. Perhaps the Seahawks and the Broncos, but with 80 percent of the bets on New Orleans this week, it's safe to say that the 2012 season is nothing more than a distant memory.

Keep an eye on

The Falcons defense showed promising signs out of the gate in 2012, but faded during the second half of the season before they finally wilted in the playoffs versus Seattle. They revamped the secondary and brought in Osi Umenyiora, but not much has changed. In fact, the numbers suggest they've regressed even further.

They are near the bottom of the league in sacks and pass defense. These two usually go hand in hand, but it's not a good combination to have when you're facing Drew Brees and company. Even worse, they can't even do the fundamentals right as they've missed 32 tackles over the last three games.

The scary thing for Falcons fans is that the Saints have started trending up in the categories that were struggling earlier in the year; rushing and red zone efficiency.

It would be encouraging if the Falcons defense had one strong area to hang their hats on, but they don't even have that. They can't get off the field on third down, and can't stop anybody once they get inside the 20.

The Saints offense usually goes through the trio of Graham, Colston, and Sproles, but Sproles is questionable for this game. If he can't go that could give Atlanta some hope, but Sean Payton is a master at scheming new ways to move the chains.

So maybe Matt Ryan can orchestrate enough offense to keep up with Brees? Normally I'd say that's a decent bet, but without Julio Jones it's going to be an uphill battle all night. Ryan did have a great start in the first half of the season, but lately his production has fallen as he puts more on his shoulders. He's forcing too many balls and heaving desperation passes to compensate for the rest of the roster.

Games are rarely won and lost with a rushing attack anymore, but it would help immensely if Steven Jackson could get going. If he can produce some first downs, it would take a lot of pressure off of Ryan and could give this offense a fighting chance. Will this happen? Perhaps. The offensive line has been much better at preventing sacks than opening holes for the running game this season, but this is the one area where the Saints defense has been vulnerable.

The good thing for the Saints defense is that they've been pretty great in every other area. They are one of the top units against the pass, getting off the field on third down, and sacking the quarterback.

Looking at the peripheral stats, the news doesn't get any better for Atlanta. They rank near the bottom in starting average field position, while the Saints rank among the best. The Saints offense also take a really low number of penalties, so they aren't about to shoot themselves in the foot. Finally, the Falcons are one of the worst teams in terms of turnover differential.

Bottom Line

When all is said and done, I think the only thing the Falcons can hang their hat on is the fact that this is a divisional game at home on a short week. Is that enough to take the points and hope for an unlikely cover? That's not something I want to do.

The current point spread is an accurate reflection of where these teams are.  It's still too many points to be laying for a road game though. I'd love to take New Orleans at -7, but it's highly unlikely we'll see that number by kickoff. Instead, I'd recommend to throw the Saints in a teaser.

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