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Atlanta Falcons vs. New Orleans Saints Point Spread - Pick

Atlanta Falcons (9-5 SU, 6-8 ATS) vs. New Orleans Saints (10-4 SU, 8-6 ATS)
Week 16 NFL
Date/Time: Sunday, December 24, 2017 at 1PM EST
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana
TV: Fox

By Loot, NFL Football Handicapper, Lootmeister.com

Point Spread: ATL +5.5/NO -5.5
Over/Under Total: 52.5

The Atlanta Falcons come to the Superdome on Sunday for a big NFC South divisional matchup against the New Orleans Saints. Both teams are trying to fortify their postseason position. The range of possible landing-spots for the Falcons is wide-ranging, but they've been doing their part, beating Tampa on MNF for their 5th win in 6 games. They could actually win the division with two straight wins to end the season, but they could also lose their way out of the postseason. The Saints beat the Jets, 31-19, on Sunday and can also win the division if they keep winning. Two weeks ago, these teams tangled in Atlanta, with not much separating the teams in a 20-17 Atlanta win. A pick in the end zone stopped a Saints' comeback attempt, as New Orleans looks to reverse that result this week.

The Saints may have cooled down some since going on an 8-game winning streak, going 2-2 in their last 4 games. Those losses were pretty forgivable—a pair of one-score road defeats to the Falcons and Rams. They still managed to beat the Panthers in that stretch, another contending NFC South team. And while they have swept the Panthers this season, they don't want to be swept by the Falcons, which could undermine their postseason standing. And since losing in week two at the Superdome, they haven't lost at home since. So getting this game at home to set up a playoff game at home is big for the Saints.

The Saints offense is a big part of what they will be relying on to make a run at something special this season. It's a group that can wield their firepower in any number of ways, with a strong and varied run-game with backs who also catch passes and a nice crew of receivers. Making it all come together is an experienced and steely vet in Drew Brees, who should surpass 4000 yards passing in this game. On the ground, Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara have been big, as both catch a lot of balls, as well. Ingram is over 1000 yards on the ground with 51 catches, while Kamara will most likely surpass 700 yards passing and rushing in this game. WR Michael Thomas is over 1000 yards. WR Ted Ginn is nearing 700 yards, while Brandon Coleman is adding some nice production, with Willie Snead starting to see more action. It's not an easy group to stop.

On Sunday, the Saints defense was pretty sharp and made some big plays. Linebacker Craig Robertson and exciting rookie corner Marshon Lattimore both had picks. During their 8-game streak they somehow made the transformation from a poor defense to a stout one, seemingly overnight. That form has slipped some, but truth be told, they don't need to be great. If they can just make some big plays and come up with timely stops, that should suffice. They get a nice pass-rush with Cameron Jordan, with strong linebacker play from Robertson and surging Manti Te'o. And guys like Kenny Vaccaro, Lattimore, Marcus Williams, and Ken Crawley deserve a lot of kudos for what has been a good secondary this season, a stark contrast to what we've seen in recent seasons from this bunch.

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Atlanta has had an up-and-down season, but five wins in 6 games have the defending conference champions looking as good as they have all year. After a 3-0 start, they dropped four of their next five games and people were starting to wonder. They were blowing it late in games, continuing the form from when they blew it in the Super Bowl. The offense, under new coordinator Steve Sarkisian, looked to have lost a few steps. But then things starting to fall into place better for the Falcons. They have actually been getting pretty strong defensive play all season and when the offense clicked into gear, they started looking like a contender again. Still, they're not blowing teams away, as their 6-8 ATS record will attest. Most of their wins are close and we'll see if this altered formula for success takes them far this season.

Matt Ryan might not be having the type of season that he had when he won the MVP last season, but he's been better. His 18/11 TD-to-INT ratio isn't exciting, especially as he has thrown for 3500 yards. The Falcons still managed to beat the Saints in Atlanta the first time, despite Ryan tossing three picks. Getting Devonta Freeman back into the flow after he missed some time is big. On Sunday, he ran for 126 yards and a TD, while catching 5 balls for 68 yards. Julio Jones was a bit subdued on MNF, but is always a threat to have a big day. Mohamed Sanu is a big aerial asset, as is Taylor Gabriel, though he has been quiet this season. Tevin Coleman has run for nearly 600 yards, while being a valuable commodity aerially.

The Atlanta defense has been a lot better this season from an overall stoutness standpoint, giving up just 20 points a game. They were a big part of the winning formula a few weeks ago against the Saints, with LB Deion Jones getting the key pick as the Saints looked to put up the late winning score. It's also a consistent group, usually keeping opponents within a certain range. Adrian Clayborn and Vic Beasley can get after the quarterback. Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford, Ricardo Allen, Keanu Neal, and others have helped upgrade the state of the Falcons' pass-defense. The only time they gave up a lot of points this whole season was in a 34-31 win over Seattle. They've been pretty stout and have certainly carried their weight this season.

It's hard to perceive this game as anything other than a competitive divisional encounter. Anything can happen, but these teams have already confirmed suspicions that there isn't a lot separating the two. Their levels of urgency are also comparable, even if the Saints have slightly more margin for error. It could be another close game in New Orleans, as I see it being the kind of give-and-take game where it's going to feel good having the points. I like Atlanta to cover the spread this week.

Loot's Prediction to Cover the Point Spread: I'm betting on the Atlanta Falcons plus 5.5 points. Tired of your credit card not working for sportsbook deposit? End that problem today by signing up and betting the Atlanta vs. New Orleans game at Bovada Sportsbook where your credit card WILL work and where you'll receive a generous 50% sign-up bonus!

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