Atlanta Falcons (11-5) -2, 51.5 O/U at Arizona Cardinals (9-7) +2, 51.5 O/U
University of Phoenix Stadium, Phoenix, A.Z., 4:30PM Eastern, Saturday
By Jay Horne of Predictem.com
The first game of the 2009 NFL Playoff season will be a wildcard round highlight the Atlanta Falcons and the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals have the luxury of playing at home due to their higher seed in the playoffs despite the Falcons owning a much better record. This NFC match-up will feature two teams on different paths towards the end of the year. The Cardinals really fell off down the stretch losing 4 of their last 6 games, but benefited from a weak division that kept the Cards playoff bound. Atlanta closed out the year strong winning 3 straight and 5 of their last 6 games. The Falcons will go for their 4 straight victory this weekend and fight to play another game.
Atlanta has really played well on the offensive side of the ball this season. Rookie sensation QB Matt Ryan has led the Falcons this year behind center and appears to be a future star in the making. However, Ryan lacks any playoff experience and it will be interesting to see how he handles the pressure. The Atlanta offense ranks 6th in the NFL for overall offense averaging 361 yards per game. The Falcons main success has come on the ground behind the legs of running back Michael Turner. Turner finished 2nd in the NFL in rushing yards this season behind Adrian Peterson. On the year, Turner racked up stout 1,699 yards and 17 touchdowns. The Falcons running game ranks 2nd in the NFL averaging a total of 152.8 yards per game on the ground. Matt Ryan and Michael Turner look to lead the Atlanta offense to post big numbers on the scoreboard.
Arizona started the year with one of the most prolific offenses in the NFL. Veteran QB Kurt Warner was been razor sharp this season and has the Cardinals passing attack ranked 2nd in the NFL. Arizona has thrown for 292 yards per game through the air and Warner has racked up 4,583 yards this season. Warner also ranks 3rd in the NFL in QB rating and touchdowns at 96.9 and 30 scores on the season. Arizona has been superb this season getting the ball in the end zone and putting up a large total of points. Arizona is the 3rd best scoring offense in the NFL averaging 26 points per game. The Cardinals started the year even stronger than where they stand now in terms of offense. Arizona will look to get the offense back on track despite their sluggish performance in recent weeks where they have only been averaging 17 points per game in their last 3 outings.
The bookies have opened the betting line with this game being predicting to be a close match-up. The betting lines having the Atlanta Falcons as the slight favorite by 2 points over the Cardinals. The over/under for the contest has been posted at 51.5 points considering the fact both teams can move the ball effectively through the air. ML numbers have the Falcons listed as -125 favorites while Arizona stands as +105 underdogs.
Arizona main problem this season and especially in the closing weeks has been the horrific play of the defense. High power offensive teams have tendency to give up more points considering there are usually more possessions, but the Cardinals defense has not been good at all. Arizona ranks as one of the top 5 worse defenses in the NFL allowing 27 points every contest. The Cardinals allowed 34 points per game in their last 3 games and they must find away to stop a strong Falcons offense. The difference in the game could very well rest in the hands of the Arizona defense rather than the offense.
Atlanta is another defense that has had troubles this season as well. The Falcons defense allows an abundance of yards giving up 347 per game. However, the Falcons have been pretty good at keeping the scoring to a minimum despite all the yardage allowed. Atlanta is allowing 20.3 points per game ranking right outside the top 10. The Falcons defense looks to control a dangerously talented offense and keep the Atlanta offense on the field. The Falcons will have the chance to keep Kurt Warner and company on the sidelines if running back Michael Turner can establish an effective running game. If that happens, Atlanta will be very difficult to defeat.
Atlanta is 4-2 ATS in their last 6 games. The Falcons have been pretty even on the over/under total this season reaching the under side in 9 of their 16 games. The Falcons are also 2-0 ATS against the Cardinals in their last two meetings. Arizona is 2-4 ATS in their last 6 games while reaching the over total in 5 of those last 6 games. However, the Cardinals have been solid at home this season with a 6-3 ATS mark in Phoenix.
Jays Pick - Look for Arizona to pressure the rookie QB Ryan and use their home field advantage to squeek by in this one.