The matchup may not be what it looked like on paper before the season, but there will still be plenty on the line when the New Orleans Saints travel to Atlanta to take on the Falcons. The 8-2 Saints are battling for the NFC South title and home-field advantage, while the 2-8 Falcons are currently slotted to have a top five pick in the NFL Draft.
With the seasons having gone as they have, it shouldn't be much of a surprise to see the Saints a strong betting favorite, even on the road. New Orleans opened as a 6-point favorite and line has since shifted even further in its direction. Some oddsmakers currently have New Orleans pegged as a 10.5-point favorite.
New Orleans is an obvious pick to win the matchup straight up, but there is more of a question when betting against the spread. The Saints' 6-3-1 record against the spread isn't nearly as good as their 8-2 record straight up. Even more troubling is that most of New Orleans' success against the spread has come at home, where the Saints are 5-0-1 ATS. Their record against the spread drops to 1-3 on the road. Atlanta is just 2-8 ATS this season, but has fared much better at home, going 2-3.
Both teams have been known to have prolific offenses in recent years, and the total opened at 53 points. New Orleans is once again lighting up the scoreboard, averaging 28.8 points per game, the second-highest total in the NFL. If the total is going to hit the over, New Orleans may need a big offensive day with Atlanta struggling to score points. The Falcons are averaging 21.4 points per game, but have scored more than 13 points in just one of their last four games. They've faced some tough defenses during that stretch, but will face another one on Thursday with New Orleans ranking fifth in the NFL in scoring defense.
Despite Atlanta's offensive woes and New Orleans' defensive success, the trends say to bet the over. The total has gone over in four of the Saints' last five games and four of their last six road games. Atlanta's contests have also hit the over more often than not lately, partially due to defensive struggles. The total has hit in six of Atlanta's last nine games and six of its last seven home games.
When compared head-to-head, however, the total has gone under in four of the last six meetings between the two teams. New Orleans has held an advantage over the Falcons recently, winning five of the last six head-to-head contests. The Saints were also 5-1 ATS during that stretch.
New Orleans looks like the obvious pick on paper, and if recent history holds true the Saints aren't a bad bet to cover the spread either. There are some concerns, especially with New Orleans being forced to travel, play on a short week and following a physical contest against San Francisco. There is also the possibility the Saints could overlook the Falcons, especially with a huge Monday night showdown at Seattle coming up next week. Even with those factors, New Orleans has everything to play for while the Falcons are simply playing for pride at this point.
Pick: Saints | Computer prediction: 32-15 Saints | Twitter: Follow OddsShark for line updates and injury news
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