ATLANTA FALCONS (0-0)
at NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (0-0)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Line: New Orleans -3, Total: 54
After a year-long “Bounty” ban, Sean Payton returns to coach the Saints against their division rival Falcons on Sunday afternoon.
New Orleans QB Drew Brees is 13-3 SU versus Atlanta since joining the Saints, but one of those defeats came in the most recent meeting on Nov. 29 when he threw five interceptions in a 23-13 loss. The Saints allowed an NFL record 440 total YPG last year and could struggle again facing the high-powered Falcons’ offense, which added RB Steven Jackson to bolster a suspect ground game. Atlanta QB Matt Ryan has thrown for 1,300 yards (325 per game) in the past two seasons of this rivalry, with 13-time Pro Bowl TE Tony Gonzalez scoring four times during that span. Although Mike Smith is 26-16 ATS (62%) in tightly-contested games where the line is +3 to -3 as the Falcons head coach, the Saints are tough to bet against at home where they were a perfect 9-0 ATS last year at the Superdome. In the past two seasons, they are 8-1 ATS (89%) as a home favorite of seven points or less.
Who will prevail in what should be a high-scoring affair? For the answer, connect to NFL Best Bets for all the StatFox Experts picks throughout the 2013 season and playoffs. During the 2012 campaign, the experts combined for a 52% ATS success rate in NFL Best Bets, highlighted by StatFox Brian's 60% ATS mark (36-24-2 ATS) and StatFox Dave's 53% ATS accuracy (44-41-4). StatFox Scott and StatFox Gary dominated NFL Totals, with Scott going 57% (38-29-1) and Gary cranking out a 56% clip (28-22-1) during the season, capped off by a perfect 4-0 run in the postseason.
Atlanta finally transitioned to a pass-first offense in offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter’s first year, though with new No. 1 back Steven Jackson replacing over-the-hill Michael Turner, they at least have the threat of a running game now. WR Roddy White remains QB Matt Ryan’s favorite target, while WR Julio Jones is frequently used either downfield, or on bubble screens. Ryan’s second look is usually for TE Tony Gonzalez up the seam. On defense, the Falcons are hoping disgruntled DE Osi Umenyiora seriously helps a pass rush that totaled nine sacks in the second half of the year and finished with the fifth-fewest sacks in the NFL (29). Atlanta also ranked 24th in total defense last season (366 YPG), but forced 31 turnovers (T-4th in NFL), including a dozen over the final five games. Atlanta departed with veteran DE John Abraham and CBs Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson, but FS Thomas DeCoud (6 INT) leads a secondary that is still loaded with talent.
The return of head coach Sean Payton should be a nice boost for QB Drew Brees and the spread passing attack, featuring a lot of West Coast routes. Top WR Marques Colston does much of his work facing the line of scrimmage. TE Jimmy Graham is basically a receiver 1A, and RB Darren Sproles is also targeted frequently. The Saints have a series of looks they can run out of, the most common being RB Mark Ingram rumbling behind fullback Jed Collins. Defensively, the Saints gave up 908 more yards than any other NFL team, setting a league record for futility with 7,042 total yards allowed. They also surrendered the second-most points in the NFL with 28.4 PPG against. New defensive coordinator Rob Ryan inherits a defense that has productive veterans in ILBs Curtis Lofton and Jonathan Vilma to lead the front seven, but two newcomers must make an impact immediately, CB Keenan Lewis, and rookie FS Kenny Vaccaro. DE/LB Will Smith was lost for the year when he tore his ACL in late August.