New Orleans Saints (7-8 SU, 10-5 ATS, 8-7 O/U) at Atlanta Falcons (10-5 SU, 10-5 ATS, 12-2-1 O/U)
When and Where: Sunday, Jan. 1, Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Ga., 4:25pmET
Line: Atlanta -6.5
Atlanta can wrap up the No. 2 seed in the NFC if they beat their NFC South rivals New Orleans at home. The Saints are trying to close out the season with three straight wins, after beating up on Arizona (48-41) on the road and Tamp Bay (31-24) at home last week. The Falcons have won three straight and clinched the NFC South title with a 33-16 win at Carolina last Saturday. These two teams met on Sept. 26 with the Falcons winning 45-32.
Brees is not done yet
Drew Brees is 37 years old and looked to be near the end of the line in Weeks 13 and 14, when he threw no touchdowns and six picks against Detroit and Tampa Bay. But he made up for it against Arizona and the Bucs when he threw five TD passes and no picks along with 688 yards. On the season, Brees has 4,858 yards passing to lead the NFL along with 35 TDs and 14 picks with a 103.1 qb rating. He threw for 299 yards and one TD in their win over the Bucs on Saturday. Running back Mark Ingram led the way with 90 yards and two rushing touchdowns. The Saints pretty much controlled this game from start to finish, leading 13-7 at the half and 28-14 midway through the third quarter. Brees has two strong receivers in rookie Michael Thomas (82 catches for 981 yards, eight TDs, who had six catches for 98 yards. Brandin Cooks is the speedster with 75 catches for 1,154 yards and eight TDs. He had five catches for 98 yards against Tampa Bay.
But the Saints are out of playoff contention because their defense is awful. They rank 25th in the NFL in yards allowed per game (369.4ypg) and 30th against the pass (270.5ypg). They also rank 30th in the league in points allowed per game at 27.7ppg, but rank second in points per game at 29.1ppg.
Ryan, defense step up against Panthers
Don’t look now but Atlanta has a defense. The same defense that allowed 29 points at home to Kansas City, has given up just 33 points in their last three games. However, two of those teams were San Francisco and the Los Angeles Rams. Last week, they held Cam Newton to just 18-43 for 198 yards and two picks, while holding the Panthers to just 302 total yards and 17 first downs. Quarterback Matt Ryan led the Falcons with 277 yards and two TDs on 27 of 33. Running back Tevin Coleman added 90 yards and a TD on just nine attempts. Wide receiver Julio Jones returned after missing two games with a toe injury to catch four passes for 60 yards.
Ryan is having a sensational season with 4,613 yards passing (69.5%) with 34 TDs and just 7 picks (115.5 qb rating). Devonta Freeman leads the ground game with 983 yards and 10 TDs, while Coleman adds eight TDs. Jones (76 catches for 1,313 yards, 5 TDs) and Mohamed Sanu (55 catches for 621 yards) are the top targets for Ryan. Atlanta ranks second in total offense (412.5ypg), third in passing yards per game (293.6ypg), first in points per game (33.5) and seventh in rushing yards per game (119.1ypg). They rank 23rd in total yards allowed per game (364.4ypg).
New Orleans is:
- Underdog is 6-0 ATS last 6 in series.
- 7-2 ATS last 9 vs. NFC.
- 0-4 ATS last 4 in January.
- 4-9 ATS last 13 home games.
Have to go with an unorthodox pick here. Atlanta is going to play hard but so will the Saints. Julio Jones might play but if he does, he probably will be limited again. Brees threw for 376 yards and three TDs in the first game but the Saints were -2 in the turnover ratio. Expect the Saints to go down fighting and covering.
Pick: New Orleans +6.5
The first game went way over the total about 23 points. That doesn’t mean this is a definite over. The Falcons defense has played well in their last three games, but Brees and the Saints’ offense are a lot better than those squads. Atlanta is 12-3-1 Over last 16 overall, 7-0 Over last 7 at home and 9-0 Over last 9 on fieldturf.