Dec 20, 2017
Dec 20, 2017

NFL preview: Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints

It's still all to play for in the NFC South

Falcons vs. Saints betting: Matt Ryan’s misery

Analysing the Saints' balanced offence

NFL preview: Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints

With just two weeks to go in the NFL regular season, The New Orleans Saints welcome the Atlanta Falcons in this weekend’s highlight game. With NFC South Championship and playoff spots are on the line, where does the value lie in the Falcons vs. Saints odds? Read on to find out.

Live Falcons vs. Saints odds

NFC South: Still all to play for

Following New England’s improbable and ultimately controversial late comeback win in Pittsburgh, we already know the winners of four of the eight conference divisions.

New England and Pittsburgh from the AFC and Minnesota and Philadelphia from the NFC have already been crowned in their respective divisions and although only the latter Eagles have secured a first-round bye week, the remaining three sides are highly likely to follow suit.

The LA Rams, Kansas City Chiefs and Jacksonville Jaguars will need an unlikely combination of results to fail to follow the lead of the previous four teams by securing their respective divisional titles in the remaining two game weeks. That just leaves the highly competitive NFC South to be decided.

The New Orleans Saints' four losses have all come against actual or likely postseason contenders - including the Falcons - but they’ve been largely dominant in their ten victories.

Here each of the three contenders, the New Orleans Saints (10-4), Carolina Panthers (10-4) and Atlanta Falcons (9-5) meet over the ensuing fortnight, with fellow divisional rivals the Tampa Bay Buccaneers playing the role of spoiler.

The three contenders currently lie seeded fourth to sixth in the NFC hierarchy, with the Detroit Lions, Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys trailing Atlanta by just one win.

Even at this late stage of the season, the scenarios for the six NFC sides competing for the three lowest seeding is varied. It is possible that every fate from winning the division to missing out completely may befall each of the three contenders.

The playoff format also allows for all three teams to qualify for the postseason.

New Orleans and Carolina has a very small chance of claiming a first-round bye, but this will rest on the unlikely failings of teams currently ahead of them in the NFC race.

At a more immediate level, whoever wins this Christmas Eve game in New Orleans can look forward to the gift of a guaranteed playoff spot.

This meeting reprises the 20-17 win for Atlanta in Week 14 when the Falcons shrugged off three Matt Ryan interceptions to claim a decisive one of their own when picking off the Saints’ Drew Brees with the game on the line.

Falcons vs. Saints betting: Matt Ryan’s misery

It’s unsurprising to see Atlanta’s quarterback Matt Ryan struggling to reproduce his exceptional 2016 Super Bowl appearing season.

His core performance stats of completion rate, yards per attempt, interception and touchdown rate are all someway off the astonishing peaks he achieved last season. 

But overall he’s still well above average, gaining around a yard per attempt further than the defences he’s faced usually allow and he does add a modicum of running ability that has long been absent from his rival on Sunday, Drew Brees. 

The Saints have a similar defensive profile to the Falcons, albeit with a greater vulnerability on the ground.

The Falcons aren’t as impressive on the ground, but still post efficiency figures that are above par - they’ve averaged 4.5 yards per carry (ypc) against teams that are allowing just 4.3 ypc.

The ultimate returns from these impressive efficiency numbers are slightly disappointing, yielding just 22.7 points per game and only a shade higher than the 22 points their opponents have allowed, on average over the season.

Defensively, the Falcons are above average against the pass, but a similar level below par against the run and they do a good job of restricting points allowed, just 20 points per game conceded to teams who are averaging nearly 22 ppg.

The unsustainable turnover ratio has been less kind to Atlanta this season. It was the league’s fourth-best at +11 last year, but they are languishing in 22nd with a minus-four differential so far this season. 

As a partial consequence, they are a much less dominant team in games, having already amassed two more narrow victories in the regular season than they did in last season’s 16-game campaign. 

Falcon vs. Saints odds: Saints’ offensive balance

New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees is more than matching Ryan in efficiency terms. He’s thrown 1.2 yards per attempt further than is usual for the defences he’s faced and he’s backed up by a top three running game that gains an average of 4.9 yards per carry compared to just 4.3 allowed by their opponent. 

This potent and balanced offensive threat feeds through into an irresistible scoring unit, where the Saints are averaging nearly a touchdown per game more than their opponents usually concede.

They have a similar defensive profile to the Falcons, albeit with a greater vulnerability on the ground.

Their four losses have all come against actual or likely postseason contenders - including the Falcons - but they’ve been largely dominant in their ten victories, winning just once by seven points or fewer.

Familiarity often brings divisional rivals closer together on the scoreboard. But both Pythagorean win expectation and efficiency matchups suggest that New Orleans are perhaps a true 11 win side hosting a 9 win team in the Falcons.

They might be able to stretch their likely margin of victory to a full touchdown, with an implied win probability of 0.7 and a match total points in the region of 50 points.

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