Consensus line: Falcons -3.5, total 55.5
Current betting percentage: 62% on the Saints, 68% on the over

Individual Team Trends:

  • Saints are 20-8 ATS in their last 28 games following a S.U. loss.
  • Saints are 6-1 ATS in their last 7 games in November.
  • Falcons are 23-9-2 ATS in their last 34 games following a ATS loss.
  • Falcons are 1-4-2 ATS in their last 7 games in November.
  • Over is 11-1 in Saints last 12 vs. NFC.
  • Over is 5-2 in Saints last 7 road games.
  • Under is 4-1 in Falcons last 5 home games.
  • Under is 14-5 in Falcons last 19 games following a S.U. win.

Head-to-Head Trends:

  • Saints are 4-0 ATS in their last 4 meetings.
  • Over is 7-3 in the last 10 meetings.
  • Underdog is 6-1 ATS in their last 7 meetings.

After having to endure some painful Thursday Night Football matchups this season, the NFL schedule makers have finally done right by setting up a great NFC South contest between the Falcons and Saints. Atlanta enters this game coming off of a one-point victory over the Bucs last week, but they could have easily won that game by more if Matt Bryant didn’t piss himself on two separate occasions. Regardless, you can’t help but feel that Atlanta is probably the worst 10-1 team in NFL history. Meanwhile, New Orleans had their playoff push halted by the 49ers with a 31-21 loss at the Superdome.

The Saints rode a three-game winning streak into last weekend’s battle with San Francisco, in large part due to the fact that they were finally able to establish a running game. In Weeks 9-11, the Saints picked up a total of 441 yards on the ground against the Eagles, Falcons, and Raiders. New Orleans won those games by an average margin of victory of 13 points. Since Joe Vitt has returned to take the head coaching role in New Orleans, the Saints have used a multiple running back system to run the ball effectively. The Saints were only able to pick up 59 yards on the ground last week against San Francisco, but I’d attribute that to the 49ers’ strong run defense that’s shut down most opponents this season.

Atlanta’s run defense has been an abomination this year. The Falcons give up an average of 4.8 yards per carry, and while they were able to limit Doug Martin last week, I’m not sure they can duplicate that success. Atlanta put an emphasis on stacking the box last week to stop the run, but they won’t be afforded the luxury of employing the same game plan against Drew Brees. The return of outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon will definitely help as the former Missouri standout rarely misses any tackles, but the Falcons’ defensive line will undoubtedly have difficulty with the Saints’ powerful offensive line. Football Outsiders’ innovative statistics rank the Saints’ offensive line as the number one run blocking unit in the league.

The Saints were able to exploit this advantage in their meeting with Atlanta three weeks ago, running for a solid 148 yards on 29 carries. With Darren Sproles now back and healthy, offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael has four solid running backs at his disposal that should be able to wear down the Falcons’ thin front seven.

Atlanta’s defense is also going to have their hands full with Brees. He’s known for being a risk taker, and some of his decisions bit him in the ass last week when he threw a pair of pick sixes against the Niners. Atlanta’s secondary stinks, but they average an interception per game on the season, so Brees will have to be careful not to be wild with his throws. Falcons’ cornerback Asante Samuel is listed as questionable to play with a shoulder injury, but considering he hasn’t participated in practice this week, I wouldn’t expect much out of him even if he does suit up. That leaves Atlanta with Dunta Robinson and Christopher Owens starting at cornerback, which will create a lot of opportunities for New Orleans deep down the field.

Brees had a solid game against the Falcons in Week 10 and boasts a touchdown to interception ratio of 30:13 in his 14 career starts against Atlanta, so you’d have to expect that he’ll have another solid game. Atlanta hasn’t been able to generate pressure on the quarterback in the last month, recording just seven sacks over their last four games, so Brees should have a clean pocket to work with for the majority of the night.

On the other side of the ball, the Falcons’ offense has some huge edges over the Saints’ defense as well. Matt Ryan has really struggled at the Georgia Dome this season, throwing only six touchdowns to nine interceptions in five games, but he definitely has a favorable matchup against a porous Saints’ secondary. New Orleans gives up nearly 300 yards per game through the air, and they’re dead last in the league, yielding 8.5 yards per passing attempt. Atlanta boasts arguably the best 1-2 wide receiver combo in the league with Julio Jones and Roddy White, who should have a field day against Patrick Robinson and Jabari Greer on the outside. Ryan torched the Saints for 408 yards in New Orleans three weeks ago, and it’s likely that history will repeat itself tonight.

In my mind, the key matchup in this game is the Saints’ rush defense versus the Falcons’ rush offense. Michael Turner is horrible. At this stage in his career, he’s nothing more than a backup, but head coach Mike Smith still favors Turner over the speedy Jacquizz Rodgers. Rodgers became more involved in the offense last week, registering 10 carries for 49 yards and a touchdown, and they’ll have to keep him involved in the game plan tonight. Atlanta couldn’t get anything going on the ground in their matchup with the Saints earlier this season, and subsequently, they struggled to score when they got into the redzone. That was the difference in that game.

Ultimately, this game could really go either way. Both team’s offenses hold significant advantages over the opposing defenses, but I trust New Orleans a little bit more right now. For starters, their red-zone touchdown rate is a mind boggling 73.5 percent. In a game that’s likely to see a lot of points (after all, the total is set at 56!), I’d rather put my faith in the team that’s going to score touchdowns and not settle for field goals. Matt Bryant has attempted 14 field goals over the last four weeks, which is two more total attempts than Saints kicker Garrett Hartley has all season.

Prediction: Saints 28, Falcons 27

Recommendation: I’m rolling with the Saints +3.5 as a small play. I’d strongly consider teasing the Saints up to 10.5 with either the over or the under, depending on what you think is more likely to happen. Personally, I think the total is bang on so I think we could see a middle job here. Good luck.