TNF - Saints at Falcons
December 7, 2017
By Tony Mejia
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New Orleans at Atlanta (PK, 51.5), 8:25 pm ET, NBC/NFLN
Alvin Kamara’s broke off a 50-yard touchdown in the preseason, but few saw what he’s been able to accomplish over the past few weeks coming. Sean Payton openly gushed about him, but with Adrian Peterson on board and Mark Ingram entrenched as the No. 1, the rookie looked like he’d have to wait his turn.
Kamara, who started his college career in Alabama and flourished at Tennessee, got 11 touches for 38 yards in a Week 1 loss to Minnesota and only one carry in a blowout loss to the Patriots the following game.
In Week 3, he scored his first touchdown. His next game produced a 10-catch day. Peterson was cut loose and Kamara has had at least 11 touches in every game since. He’s not the only reason New Orleans has won nine of its last 10, but is pretty high on the list. Kamara has scored in six straight games and has produced at least 116 yards from scrimmage over his last five.
The Falcons will get their first look at him on Thursday night in a game they almost have to win. The betting line has fluctuated, but is basically a pick'em.
Kamara, a former prep Georgia Mr. Football, is a native of Norcross and may have a little extra in him for his first game in Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The home team will look to avoid becoming a playoff afterthought in the same calendar year that a Super Bowl slipped out of their grasp.
Standing in their way is a rookie averaging 7.0 yards per carry and 10.4 per catch, accounting for 11 touchdowns. That’s good enough to be the Saints’ most productive running back, but only barely. Ingram has nine scores and is just 43 yards behind Kamara, who has produced 1,177. As a duo, they’re first in yardage gained from scrimmage and are pushing to become the first duo since 1978 to combined for over 200 yards per game, having done it in five straight games. According to NFL Network, Walter Payton and his fullback Matt Suhey were the last to do that for the 1985 Bears.
The Falcons allow a healthy 4.3 yards per carry and rank 18th, in the league’s bottom half, in giving up 113.2 yards per game. They’ll have to step their game up to try and get a handle on New Orleans in addition to containing old friend Drew Brees, who has been as efficient as ever.
Atlanta gave up its second-lowest scoring output of the season in last week’s 14-9 loss to Minnesota and looked most impressive in last month’s 27-7 win over Dallas. For the most part, however, its defense has been as vulnerable as it looked when Tom Brady led that improbable comeback last February that ultimately turned inevitable. In nine of the Falcons’ 12 games, opponents have managed to score 20 or more points. The Saints have only been held under 20 once, back in that season-opening loss to the Vikings, who have been on point defensively for months. While the Falcons do get to host this first of two meetings in 17 days, taking on the Saints on a short week doesn’t seem ideal.
Offensively, the Falcons do have some good reasons to hope they can bounce back quickly from Sunday’s dud. New Orleans has given up 21 or more points in each of the last three games, the first time that’s happened all season. Julio Jones comes off a two-catch outing that produced 24 yards, his worst of the season, which comes on the heels of a 12-reception, 253-yard day against Tampa Bay. Odds are he’ll bounce back. Devonta Freeman returned from missing nearly three full games after sustaining a concussion and ran for 74 yards on just 12 carries, so he’ll be in place to team with Tevin Coleman as the new top running back tandem in the NFC South arrives.
As for Matt Ryan, he’ll be looking to bounce back from his first TD-less game in 30 outings, snapping the longest streak in the NFL. His 173 passing yards were his lowest total since Week 10 of 2013. Ryan has a 5-2 mark on Thursday night football and has an incredible 16-0 TD-to-INT ratio, throwing 250 passes without being picked off.
Brees is 5-5 on Thursday nights, which includes a 2-1 mark against the Falcons, having come up with wins on each of his last two appearances against them (’13 and ’15).
New Orleans Saints
Season win total: 8 (Over +100, Under -120)
Odds to win NFC South:5/7 to 1/6
Odds to win NFC: 8/1 to 11/2
Odds to win Super Bowl: 16/1 to 12/1
Season win total: 9.5 (Over -110, Under -110)
Odds to win NFC South: 17/4 to 9/1
Odds to win NFC: 6/1 to 9/1
Odds to win Super Bowl: 12/1 to 20/1
Atlanta opened the regular season at 8/1 to win the NFC and 16/1 to win the Super Bowl at Westgate, so it's not like they're surprising oddsmakers by flirting with missing the playoffs altogether. The Saints, on the other hand, were 13/1 to win the NFC and 25/1 to bring home a Super Bowl, so anyone holding those tickets right now is undoubtedly giddy.
New Orleans has already exceeded its season win total, while the Falcons will need to win out to cash the over. The defending champs opened as the 3-to-2 favorite to win the NFC South, while (4/5) the Saints were the biggest longshot at 6/1. Carolina and Tampa Bay were each available at 5/2.
As far as this matchup is concerned, the Falcons were installed as a 3-point favorite when the Westgate's early numbers were announced, opened the week as a 1-to 1.5-point 'chalk' and then progressed to being even as a pick'em.
The money line is different at many spots, so shop around if you're so inclined.
Scott Cooley of [...] provides info on what his shop is seeing as far as betting trends.
"A lot of steady sharp involvement ahead of Thursday Night Football thus far. We opened Falcons -2 and went to a pick 'em less than 24 hours later," Cooley said. "Steam followed and we're now offering Saints -2. A four-point swing this early indicates a ton of smart money on the Saints, and the public backing them as well. The total has also been bet down by the pros, going from an opener of 55 to 53."
New Orleans’ biggest question mark was rookie corner Marshon Lattimore, who has missed the last two games with an ankle injury, is expected to return to upgrade the secondary. Safety Marcus Williams will also be back from a groin injury, while Ken Crawley returned last week. LB A.J. Klein will also play, so the defense should be at full strength.
Up front, the Saints will be missing tackle Andrus Peat, who played every snap on Sunday. The return of Terron Armstead from a groin injury could ease that burden, but he’s been banged up most of the season. Tight end Cody Fleener remains out with a concussion.
Atlanta corner Desmond Trufant has cleared protocol and will be back in action, so the defensive backfield will be in place since safety Brian Poole has been cleared as well. Guard Andy Levitre will miss this game due to a triceps injury, ending a streak of 140 straight starts.
RECENT MEETINGS (Atlanta 4-2 SU, 3-3 ATS last six; OVER 4-2)
1/1/17 Atlanta 38-32 vs. New Orleans (NO +7.5, 58.5)
9/26/16 Atlanta 45-32 at New Orleans (ATL +2.5, 54)
1/3/16 New Orleans 20-17 at Atlanta (NO +5.5, 52.5)
10/15/15 New Orleans 31-21 vs. Atlanta (NO +3, 51)
12/21/14 Atlanta 30-14 at New Orleans (ATL +6, 56.5)
9/7/14 Atlanta 37-34 OT vs. New Orleans (ATL +3, 51.5)
NEXT WEEK'S NUMBERS POSTED
The Westgate opens its advance lines for the following week on Tuesdays and Week 15 currently has the Saints as a 10.5-point home favorite against the N.Y. Jets. The Falcons will be back on a national stage, visiting Tampa Bay for Monday night football as they seek a sweep of their season series following a Week 12 road win. Atlanta is listed as a 3.5-point favorite.
Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA