The presence of Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and some shaky defenses should mean a points bonanza for Thursday Night Football as Neil Harvey explains...
"The lack of preparation time needed to study the opposition's offensive plays should make life harder for both defenses. And with two of the league's most entertaining offenses on display, that should mean lots of points."
Atlanta Falcons @ New Orleans Saints
Live On Sky Sports
On first glance this looks like an impending massacre, with the unbeaten (5-0) Falcons heading to New Orleans to tackle the struggling (1-4) Saints. And yet we see no such gulf in terms of the odds available, with Atlanta's price of 1.558/15 to win, suspiciously big. Indeed it has my spider sense tingling. And as I eye the fat juicy betting worm in front of me, I suspect all might not be so obvious at is seems. But how?
Well to start with, oddsmakers are certainly factoring in the dreaded short week. Having played on Sunday, it means Atlanta lost a day of game preparation as they travelled to New Orleans and means that they've effectively had three days less time to prepare than away sides who'll be playing at the weekend. However, in this case, the journey from Atlanta to New Orleans was hardly gruelling. An eight hour road trip would have sufficed. So the Falcons' private jet certainly got there much quicker than that.
The lack of preparation time needed to study the opposition's offensive plays should make life harder for both defenses. And with two of the league's most entertaining offenses on display, that should mean lots of points.
Another issue that could be affecting the odds is Atlanta's habit of excelling at home, but underperforming on the road. It's almost become the stuff of legends. But in this case, the venue of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome must be about as close as you can get to the Georgia Dome. The fake turf and indoor calm should feel close to home for the Falcons, who should be able to adapt quickly.
Despite all the hype over the Falcons and the tales of the Saints' demise, there's actually nothing to separate their two quarterbacks. And that's a surprise. Matt Ryan has thrown just 142 yards more than Drew Brees, for an equal number of touchdowns, and has actually given up one more interception.
It's on the ground where the real difference lies, with Falcons' RB Devonta Freeman leading the league with eight touchdowns and second in the NFL for rushing yards. He's been as outstanding as he's been unexpected. By comparison, Mark Ingram has 140 yards and six touchdowns less. It's not even close.
A lot of that difference may well be because of the offensive lines. They force open the holes that make the running backs look good. They also protect the quarterback. And a look at Drew Brees' 14 sacks to Matt Ryan's nine suggests the Saints' offensive line has been struggling. Throw in to the calculation the confirmed participation of top Falcons receiver Julio Jones, and it's Atlanta who seem to hold all the aces on offense.
But what about defense I hear you cry? That's what wins matches! Well amazingly, it's Atlanta who lead the NFL at stopping the run, giving up just 80 yards per game. The Saints rank 30th out of 32. Meanwhile both teams have struggled against the pass, with New Orleans 23rd and Atlanta 29th.
Combined with the short week allowing less time to read up, this should mean a bumper harvest of points. Atlanta look like they should prosper whatever they do with the ball against a poor Saints defense. Meanwhile, New Orleans will as usual look to Drew Brees for salvation, and especially so if they fall behind. For all their failings, the Saints still rank third on passing offense in the NFL, with Willie Snead an up and coming wideout who's emerged as their go-to guy. Snead's only small by receiver standards (5-11), but he runs great routes in the slot, and can amass some big yardage here. Brees should also put up some big numbers, albeit with some interceptions in there and by taking advantage of garbage time.
For the Falcons, Julio Jones will be massive as always, but it's Devonta Freeman who can punch in the opening touchdown and amass a ton of yards. Freeman looks sure to score at some time given his eight scores in four games to date and he won't find much easier opponents than the Saints all season.
I'm expecting a ton of points and Atlanta to defy their poor away reputation, as they continue their perfect start to the season.
2pts Back Total Points Over 51 @ 1.9620/21
Back First Half Points Over 23.5 @ 1.9620/21 or better
Back Atlanta (-3.5) to win @ 1.991/1
Back Total Atlanta Points Over 27.5 @ 1.9620/21 or better
Back Devonta Freeman rushing yards Over 95.5 @ 1.9620/21 or better
Back Drew Brees passing yards Over 310 @ 1.9620/21 or better
Back Devonta Freeman to score first/anytime touchdown @ 6.86/1