Tonight we get a divisional game that probably won’t be competitive but will still be meaningful for the playoffs. The Saints are highly favored over the Falcons even though the game is in Atlanta, which is good news for the Saints since they need wins and tiebreakers (like wins in the division) to stay ahead of the Panthers. Let’s break it down.
All you particularly need to know about this game is that the Saints are 8-2 and the Falcons are 2-8. But there are reasons for those. The Saints are 4th in the league in yards per play, and Atlanta is actually 10th. That makes it sound a little closer than it really is, as the Saints are over half a yard better on that measure, or as far ahead of the Falcons as the Falcons are ahead of the Rams, Dolphins, Jets, and Panthers (?!). Matt Ryan is rarely sacked to partially offset his above-average interception rate while Brees avoids both; Brees also just gets more yards per throw. Both teams are a bit below average at running but the Saints have actually done it more, probably in the course of running out the clock in wins. So when it counts, the Saints will be a decent amount better on offense.
The much maligned Saints defense from last year has improved to about average, at least as far as yards per play is concerned, but the Falcons are 4th-worst in the league. This shows you where Atlanta’s problems truly lie. Both teams are very generous as far as the run is concerned, but the Saints actually give up the most yards per carry in the league (tied with the Cowboys). If they can’t keep the ball away from Brees, Atlanta is in for a long night as they are below average at both sacks and interceptions, and give up the 4th most yards per attempt in the league. The Saints are actually pretty good at limiting yards through the air, coming in at 7th in the league, and are also above-average at interceptions and have the league’s 2nd-best sack rate. So Atlanta might want to try running if they want to have a chance in the game. This would go against the Saints’ defensive weakness and also avoid putting Ryan into bad spots.
So to sum up you have an average Falcons passing attack going against a fairly stingy Saints pass defense and a below-average running attack going against a poor run defense; coming the other way you have a good passing offense going against a poor pass defense and the Saints’ below-average run attack against the Falcons’ poor run defense. If that sounds like the Saints should be able to do whatever they want to do on offense, you’re probably right. If it also sounds like the Falcons will have to try to keep up by running, which they aren’t good at, you’re also right. And thus the Saints are favored by 9 on the road.
Let’s do a quick run through Luigi’s predicted winners. We have the Saints, Browns, Lions, Packers, Chiefs, Bears, Panthers, Ravens, Texans, Titans, Cardinals, Cowboys, Broncos, and 49ers. When it comes to the line and the SuperContest though, we can only pick five. This week appears to have a number of mediocre picks with no giant disparities but also plenty of medium differences. The top five are Jaguars +10, Falcons +9, Packers -5, Washington +5.5, and Cowboys +2.5. The Green Bay pick gets the usual Rodgers disclaimer, and the Jaguars pick gets my usual hatred of hoping that Jacksonville actually feels like keeping a game close for once. If I have any good feelings about that pick it’s that the Texans have something like one cover all year. If you skip on the Packers, the next game in is Tampa +9.
Yoshi 1’s SuperContest picks are Falcons, Washington, Chargers +4.5, Colts +2.5, and Dolphins +4. Yoshi 2’s picks are Atlanta, Jacksonville, Washington, Tampa, and Dallas. So the consensus choices might be Atlanta and Washington. I’m not sure that I really believe the Falcons will keep it close tonight, but you never know. Enjoy the game!