Atlanta Falcons (3-2 SU, 2-3 ATS) vs. New England Patriots (4-2 SU, 2-4 ATS)
NFL Week 7
Date/Time: Sunday October 22nd 8:30 PM EST
Where: Gillette Stadium
by Mike M, Expert Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: ATL +4 / NE-4
In a rematch of last seasons legendary Super Bowl LI, the New England Patriots host the Atlanta Falcons Sunday night for a primetime showdown in Foxboro at Gillette Stadium.
Both teams enter the game with a winning record but neither has been particularly lighting the league on fire, with the Patriots defense looking nothing short of terrible and Atlanta coming off back-to-back home losses against the Bills and Dolphins in games in which they were favored by over a touchdown and led in both at the half.
For the Falcons, this game is at least a step in the right direction in attempting to move past, or at least move on, from their disastrous choke job loss to the Patriots in Super Bowl LI. While a majority of the blame for their downfall was directed toward former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan for his mind-boggling play calling decision after the Falcons built a 28-3 lead with 8:31 left in the 3rd quarter, namely running the ball only five times in the final 23 minutes of game play as they did nothing to drain the clock and instead gave the Patriots enough opportunities to fight back into the game and eventually get the win in overtime. Shanahan has since moved on to the 49ers, but unfortunately for Atlanta fans his departure and the teams subsequent hire of former disgraced college coach Steve Sarkisian to take his place as the teams offensive coordinator has only made things worse, with no player on the roster more clearly affected than quarterback Matt Ryan.
After posting the best season of his career in 2016 that led to him winning his first ever league MVP award, Ryan has fallen back to earth this year statistically and isnt putting up nearly the same numbers as those that led to his abundant output a year ago. He has thrown for a pedestrian 6/6 TD-INT ratio this season, which is light years away from the 38/7 ratio he put up in 2016, and has been unable to find any sort of the consistency that led to his, and in turn the teams, previous prolific ways. The only area where he has unfortunately stayed at the same level is his lack of success in the fourth quarter, as just like last season the closing quarter has been his downfall and he again has posted his lowest quarterback rating of any quarter and a passing percentage of under 59% in the games final frame.
While Ryans struggles havent necessarily decimated the offense, they still rank 5th in yards per game, 6th in passing and 11th in scoring, they have clearly had an effect on star wideout Julio Jones. Starting with Super Bowl LI, Jones has gone six straight games without a touchdown catch and has eclipsed 100 yards just once in that time span. After finishing last year 2nd in receiving yards he is currently just 18th in the league, and despite easily being one of the best at his position, ranks just 40th in targets so far this season. With Ryan also ranking last amongst starting quarterbacks in passer rating for throws of 20 yards or more, its no wonder Jones and his deep threat abilities are struggling as much as they are. While its adorable that Sarkisian wants to go with the little league type offense where everyone gets a turn (Ryans six touchdowns passes are to six different receivers), the Falcons will have to get Jones significantly more involved if they want to have any real chance of getting back into the playoffs and avenging last years downfall in the finale.
Thankfully for Ryan and Falcons offense, nothing cures your ails much like playing against the Patriots defense this year, as New England has already set an unfortunate record by allowing six straight quarterbacks to throw for over 300 yards in every game to start their season so far. They also continue to rank at or near the basement in nearly all defensive categories, including 32nd in yards allowed per game, 32nd against the pass and 30th in scoring. They also come in a dead last in the league in yards allowed per play at 6.6, as their Achilles heel continues to be the allowance of big plays, as the Patriots keep finding ways to shoot themselves in the foot by allowing even the lowest tier offenses (see the Jets game last week) to move down the field at will against their sieve of a D. Despite Ryans passing struggles this season there is no questioning his all around ability, and New England could be in a for long night if cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe remain out with injuries, as there is only so long they will be able to keep Julio Jones from finally breaking out and exploiting their pathetic pass defense.
The Patriots defense may be struggling but at least they can for the most part rely on their offense, as despite some consistency issues they still rank at the top of the NFL in total yards per game and passing while coming in at fifth in scoring. Last week quarterback Tom Brady added another accolade to his always growing list by breaking the record for regular season wins with his 186th, and now has that mark along with the most postseason and overall wins by a starting quarterback. Throughout his career Brady is 4-0 against the Falcons and his passer rating against them of 115.7 is the highest he has achieved amongst any of the 31 opposing teams in the NFL.
Brady was able to bring his team back from an early 14-0 hole last week against the Jets, leading them to 24 straight points before they allowed a late backdoor cover but still securing the 24-17 victory. He continued to spread the ball around to his five major targets of Gronkowski/Hogan/Cooks/Amendola/White, while also benefiting from a more consistent running game after Dion Lewis took over the lead role from Mike Gillislee after the latter lost a first half humble. Gillislee has gone four straight weeks without scoring and doesnt come close to Lewis elusiveness or breakout speed, so it would not be surprising at all to see the more effective Lewis become more of the focal point of the backfield on running plays, especially with his additional pass catching abilities.
After losing to New England in Super Bowl XLIX, the Seahawks are still suffering from the effects of their own disastrous play calling, and watching the Falcons stumble through multiple blown leads at home these past couple of weeks against inferior competition while also continuing to hear their players and coaching staff keep bringing up their own Super Bowl loss from a season ago, it appears that Atlanta is in legit danger of falling into the same hangover trap as Seattle did. While winning a regular season game in week seven can in no way repair the damage done by gagging away Super Bowl LI, getting a victory this week against the Patriots would likely go a long away in helping the team get back on track this season and at least provide a little bit of solace for those still dealing with the daily salt in the wound memories from February. It would not surprise me to see either team win this game, but with the triple threat combination of Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman and Julio Jones going against New Englands feeble defense, I would recommend taking Atlanta and the four point head start against the Patriots on Sunday night in Foxboro.
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