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Falcons at Lions

Two teams going in different directions will collide Saturday night at Ford Field in the Motor City, where Detroit will play host to Atlanta. With a win, the Falcons can wrap up homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.

Most books are listing Atlanta (12-2 straight up, 8-5-1 against the spread) as a 3 ½-point favorite with a total of 51. Gamblers can take the Lions on the money line for a plus-170 return (risk $100 to win $170).

Mike Smith’s team silenced its critics with last week’s 34-0 clubbing of the Giants at the Ga. Dome. Matt Ryan completed 23-of-28 passes for 270 yards and three touchdowns without an interception.

Julio Jones caught a pair of TD passes against the G-Men. Tony Gonzalez had the other TD grab and Michael Turner rushed for 52 yards and one score. Harry Douglas had three receptions for a team-high 83 yards.

Atlanta’s defense handed New York its first regular-season shutout since 1996. Sean Weatherspoon recorded a team-high nine tackles (six solo), while Thomas DeCoud and Asante Samuel both intercepted Eli Manning. Samuel’s interception on the Giants’ opening drive set the tone for the game and gave his team great field position to draw first blood.

Ryan is enjoying the best season of his career. The Boston College product has completed 68.5 of his passes for a career-high 4,202 yards with a 27/14 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Ryan probably has the best trio of weapons in the NFL with tight end Tony Gonzalez, WR Julio Jones and WR Roddy White, and now Douglas is getting more involved.

White has made a team-high 79 receptions for 1,156 yards and five TDs, while Jones has 69 catches for 1,071 yards and nine TDs. Gonzalez is possibly playing his last season but the future Hall of Famer isn’t slowing down a bit. Gonzalez has 87 receptions for 880 yards and eight TDs.

Atlanta has not had much success running the ball, however. Michael Turner is averaging only 3.6 yards per carry and his back-up, Jacquizz Rodgers, is averaging just 3.9 YPC.

Detroit (4-10 SU, 5-9 ATS) has been creating ways to lose all season and last week’s blowout loss to the lowly Cardinals was the icing on the cake in a nightmare campaign. Arizona snapped a nine-game losing streak by trouncing the Lions 38-10 as a six-point home underdog.

Matt Stafford threw three interceptions against the Cardinals, including a pair of pick-sixes.

Jim Schwartz’s club has lost six in a row, going 1-5 ATS in the process. To give you an idea of how frustrating things have been for the Lions, consider that they are second in the NFL in total offense and 12th in total defense. Until last week’s loss, Detroit’s seven previous defeats were all one-possession games.

Stafford is fourth in the NFL in passing yards with 4,252, but he has a mediocre 17/15 TD-INT ratio. Calvin Johnson leads the NFL in receiving with 106 catches for 1,667 yards and five TDs.

Detroit is 2-4 both SU and ATS at home this year. In a pair of home underdog situations, the Lions lost outright both times but went 1-1 ATS. During Schwartz’s four-year tenure, his team is 8-6 ATS in 14 games as a home underdog.

As if Schwartz didn’t have enough concerns, now injuries are starting to mount. Key players like WR Ryan Broyles, WR Titus Young, DT Corey Williams and DT Nick Fairley have recently been placed on injured reserve. Also, safety Louis Delmas is ‘questionable’ against Atlanta and TE Brandon Pettigrew is ‘doubtful.’

As for the Falcons, they have three key players listed as ‘questionable,’ including DT Jonathan Babineaux, OG Tyson Clabo and DB Chris Owens.

Atlanta has won five of its seven road games, posting a 4-2-1 spread record. The Falcons are 2-2-1 ATS as road favorites this season, 11-7-1 ATS as road ‘chalk’ during Smith’s five-year tenure.

I had a phone conversation Friday afternoon with Matt Youmans, who covers the sports betting beat for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Youmans told, “Bookmakers are prepared for a one-sided attack on the Falcons. It’s a bad situation in Detroit right now. I’ve heard the coaching staff isn’t getting along and that [head coach Jim] Schwartz and [offensive coordinator Scott] Linehan have been going at each other all year long.”

The ‘under’ is 9-5 overall for the Falcons, but they have seen the ‘over’ go 4-3 in their road assignments.

The ‘over’ is 9-4-1 overall for the Lions, 4-2 in their six home games.

Kickoff is slated for 8:30 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

--Atlanta veteran defensive end John Abraham has registered a team-high 10 sacks.

--DeCoud has a team-high six interceptions for the Falcons.

--Seattle owns the NFL’s best spread record with a 10-4 ATS ledger. The Seahawks have covered the number in three straight and they’ve seen the ‘over’ hit in four consecutive game and six of their last seven. Pete Carroll’s team is 6-0 both SU and ATS at home going into Sunday night’s NFC West showdown vs. San Francisco.

--Philadelphia continues to own the NFL’s worst ATS record, going 3-10-1 vs. the number.

--In addition to Detroit, there are six more home underdogs in Week 16, including Jacksonville (+14.5 vs. New England), Philadelphia (+6 vs. Washington), Arizona (+5.5 vs. Chicago), Baltimore (+2.5 vs. the Giants), Kansas City (+7 vs. Indianapolis) and Seattle (+1 vs. San Francisco).

--During John Harbaugh’s five-year reign as Baltimore’s head coach, the Ravens are 1-3 ATS in four games as home underdogs.

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