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Author: Mike Randle
NFL Odds: Falcons vs. Saints
The Falcons-Saints rivalry is one of the NFL’s best.
After an 0-5 start, the Falcons are 3-1 under interim head coach Raheem Morris. Can Atlanta keep the momentum going in a road game against a Drew Brees-less New Orleans team?
The Falcons’ only player projected to miss this game is defensive end Dante Fowler, who is still on the team’s reserve/COVID-19 list. Wide receiver Calvin Ridley (foot) had three consecutive limited practices, making him likely to return after missing the Falcons’ Week 10 win over the Broncos.
This team is much improved since their winless start, averaging six more points on offense while allowing 10 fewer points per game on defense.
Quarterback Matt Ryan has thrown for at least 281 yards in each of those four games, with seven touchdowns and just two interceptions. Ryan has tallied three top-12 overall fantasy quarterback performances over that span.
In his past four games against the Saints, Ryan has been superb:
Atlanta’s passing attack may have an even better advantage if New Orleans starting cornerback Marshon Lattimore (abdomen) is ruled out. Lattimore had limited practices all week and is officially listed as questionable. With Ridley and All-Pro Julio Jones, Atlanta should again find success through the air, especially if Lattimore doesn’t play.
While New Orleans’ run defense is playing at a historically-elite level, the Atlanta run defense is among the league’s best as well. The Falcons rank seventh in run defense Football Outsiders’ DVOA, and have allowed the second-fewest rushing yards (573) of any team this season.
Atlanta has annually been poor against pass-catching running backs, and have yielded the 11th-most receptions to the position this season.
However, the Falcons have always limited star running back Alvin Kamara. In six career games against the Falcons, Kamara is averaging 6.8 fewer fantasy points per game and has yet to score a touchdown.
The Falcons’ pass defense has been one of the worst all season, ranking near the bottom of the league in almost every major category.
Will Taysom Hill, in his first NFL start, be able to take advantage?
New Orleans Saints
The loss of Brees is a huge factor. In New Orleans’ short-area passing attack, the timing and precision of Brees was the foundational catalyst. He was formally placed on Injured Reserve with rib and shoulder injuries.
In addition, running back Dwayne Washington (back) and tight end Josh Hill (concussion) have been ruled out. The potential loss of Lattimore (abdomen) would be another critical injury against the explosive Falcons.
We expect a heavy dose of Kamara (foot), who returned to practice fully on Friday. Right tackle Ryan Ramczyk (knee), wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith (concussion), defensive end Cameron Jordan (back) and nose tackle Malcom Brown (calf) should all be available on Sunday.
The unknown question is how Hill will perform at quarterback. Over his three-year career, the versatile Hill has attempted just 18 pass attempts for 205 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception.
Expect head coach Sean Payton to take advantage of Hill’s rushing ability, with a 5.5-yard-per-attempt average on his career 98 attempts.
All-Pro Michael Thomas has returned after battling a high-ankle sprain and hamstring strain, but has not produced near his normal level. Thomas has averaged just 6.5 targets, 3.5 receptions and 39 receiving yards with no touchdowns.
Tight end Jared Cook has been an inconsistent producer, too. Over the past six games, Cook has three top-12 TE fantasy finishes to pair with three games outside the top 38 at the position.
Along with Kamara, the Saints’ defense has been one of their keys to success. As mentioned, the New Orleans run defense is playing at one of the highest levels in the past 20 season. Per Football Outsiders, the Saints allow more than 37% less production on all running plays in comparison to the league average.
Will that be effective enough against an Atlanta team that has one of the league’s best passing attacks?
There are simply too many variables going against New Orleans in this heated AFC South rivalry. Atlanta’s ability to limit Kamara in these matchups combined with Hill making his first start provide two big advantages.
The Falcons have been a different team under Morris and can hide their pass defense deficiencies behind a strong front four defensive line. We saw the Saints struggle against the Packers offense in Week 2, and Ryan, Jones and Ridley bring many of the same problems.
I’m backing the Falcons with the 3.5-point hook in a game they could absolutely win. Hill will flash some big moments, but could also make some critical mistakes due to lack of experience. This line has come down since it opened at 5.5, but I would make sure to use our NFL odds page to shop around to ensure you get it at this key number.
PICK: Falcons +3.5
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Author: Mike Randle