NFC South Showdown: New Orleans Saints host Atlanta Falcons


There’s plenty on the line tonight in the Big Easy as the New Orleans Saints (11-3) bring in the Atlanta Falcons (9-5) at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for a battle between two NFC South rivals. With the NFC South title up for grabs and playoff implications all around in this match-up, there is little doubt that tonight’s Monday Night Football clash featuring two of the South’s most exciting teams will make for the best option for online sportsbook betting at one of the best online sportsbooks reviewed here.

The New Orleans Saints have been playing lights out down the home stretch of the season, and that’s due mainly to the outstanding season being played out by Drew Brees, who at a 71.5 percent completion rate with 4,780 yards and 37 touchdowns on the season is performing at perhaps his highest level in what has been a storied NFL career. Setting sights on breaking Dan Marino’s single-season passing record (needing just over 300 yards passing to do so), Brees leads what is without a doubt the most potent passing game in the NFL, averaging 331.4 yards per contest and features an array of downfield weapons including top tight end Jimmy Graham (87 catches, 1171 yards, 9 TDs), top wide-out Marques Colston (66 catches, 917 yards, 5 TDs) and the sneaky all-around threat of Darren Sproles (79 catches, 659 yards, 5 TDs). It has perhaps been the addition of Sproles this season, acquired as a free agent from San Diego in the offseason, that has given the Saints an identity as an ever-changing, well balanced machine that leaves opposing defenses struggling to figure out where the ball is going next. Where the Saints used to be a pass first an pass again offense, now a three-headed monster is looming in the backfield with Sproles (76 rushes, 496 yards, 2 TDs) joining Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram to make for a formidable rushing attack as well (averaging 125.4 yards/game, good for 10th in the NFL). With the #1 total offense in the league playing at the best they ever have together, the Atlanta Falcons will no doubt have their work cut out for them on defense, which has excelled against the run but still has vulnerabilities against the pass.

Fortunately for Atlanta, they are entering tonight’s game with New Orleans on two straight wins, including a blow-out 41-14 triumph over Jacksonville on December 15th. Getting 11 days off before facing a tough Saints team that is starting to improve their defensive form is certainly a big help for Atlanta, as they’ll need to come up with a solid game plan for keep Drew Brees somewhat contained, while at the same time finding a way to generate enough offense to keep pace. While Atlanta nearly overcame the Saints at home (losing 26-23 in overtime on Nov. 13th), what will be telling first and foremost for the Falcons is how their quarterback Matt Ryan handles playing on the road against a fired-up Saints defense; Ryan has historically been much worse out on the road than he has at home, although his most recent performance on the road at Carolina is certainly comforting for Falcons fans as he threw for 320 yards and 4 TDs in one of his best efforts of his career to date. If there is one area where the Saints have a weakness, it’s against a good downfield passing game, with New Orleans allowing 256.1 yards/game to opposing quarterbacks. With Atlanta very good at running a no-huddle offense and bolstered by a slew of solid receiving talent of their own, including the resurgent tight end Tony Gonzalez (74 catches, 826 yards, 7 TDs) and top WR Roddy White (87 catches, 1171 yards, 9 TDs), they will look to keep the Saints defense out of synch, and spread the defense thin in order to utilize the many available options in the passing game. While running the ball straight ahead with Michael Turner (273 carries, 1129 yards, 9 TDs) may be tougher in tonight’s match-up against a Saints team that is getting better and better against the run, utilizing the hard-nosed Turner to open up the Atlanta passing game will be essential, and we may even see Turner get some use in the flats if Atlanta catches New Orleans trying to blitz too many times to shake up Matt Ryan.

This match-up has been a tight affair in each of the last 4 meetings, with the margin of victory in each contest being only 3 points. New Orleans behind Drew Brees has had ownership of the vast majority of wins in this series, with Brees posting a 9-3 record against Atlanta, and winning the last three of four contests. However, even with the Saints playing at the vaunted level they currently are at, there is every opportunity for the hungry Atlanta Falcons to come into New Orleans and steal a victory, in similar fashion as they did last year in a 27-24 win at the Superdome. While New Orleans looks to have a clear advantage with a better passing game and an equally capable running attack that features more diversity, these two teams are surprisingly similar in makeup and talent than they perhaps have ever been. Keys for a New Orleans victory will be centered around getting Drew Brees going early, and establishing their dominance from the first series onward. If Brees can lead the Saints to an early score, the demoralizing effect that should have on the Atlanta secondary may be enough to start turning the tides in New Orleans’ favor from the get-go. While getting offense going early is just as important for Atlanta, which should look to take similar advantage of the relatively weak Saints secondary, it’s just as important for Atlanta to stop some of the Saints drives, and that starts by finding a way to get at Drew Brees. Though that’s a tough task to accomplish, as Brees is one of the most slippery quarterbacks to bring down in the pocket, it’s for Atlanta to generate some 3-and-outs in tonight’s game, or risk having their defense on the field for much longer than they’d hope for. Atlanta’s defense has to find a way to keep the Saints offense under 30 points for the game, if they are to stand any chance at keeping pace tonight.

Betting Lines for New Orleans Saints vs. Atlanta Falcons at TopBet Sportsbook

With the history between these two teams showing very tight games, including last month’s 3 point victory for the Saints in overtime at Atlanta, it’s somewhat surprising to see a bookmaker pull out a 7 point advantage for the Saints against the spread, even with them playing as well as they do at home. While it’s no surprise that the Saints are favored, with -310 odds on the money line (Atlanta gets +255 odds straight up as the underdog), with so much on the line it feels as if there is an overextension of confidence towards the Saints heading into this match-up tonight. That could be warranted with New Orleans on the verge of capping off the NFC South title with a victory, and the Saints playing their best all-around football of the year right now, but against a Falcons team with a grudge who is also playing well and is very accustomed to the Saints style of play, the betting lines feel a bit far off from what should inevitably be the expected outcome tonight. The one area of wagering options I don’t disagree with is the over/under, which sits at 52.5 points. Both teams are generating plenty of scoring opportunities behind great passing games and solid rushing attacks, and with two defenses that certainly have vulnerabilities, there should be a great chance that this game goes over the total points margin especially if the offenses open up the downfield strikes late in a close game.

Our Pick to Win:

While I like Atlanta to keep this game within the +7 points given to them against the spread, the Saints just look to be the better team, if only slightly, in just about every area of the game right now. Make no mistake, Atlanta will be a tough opponent in the postseason (as they secured a playoff berth with Dallas, Chicago and Arizona all losing this weekend), but I still don’t think they have the master game plan that gets them around the Drew Brees-led Saints, who are playing at a level consistent with a Super Bowl Champion team. I expect Atlanta to keep this game close by half, if not have an early lead, but the drive of Drew Brees and the will of this Saints team will overcome any deficit faced early on in the contest, and lead them to victory down the stretch. New Orleans grabs the NFC South title from the defending title-holding Falcons, and picks up a crucial bye with a 31-27 win at home.

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