Monday Night Football Picks: Falcons at Saints Betting Preview

Doc MosemanCorrespondent IDecember 21, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 18: Darren Sproles #43 and Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints celebrate a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings during the second quarter on December 18, 2011 at Mall of America Field at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

It’s the final Monday Night Football game of the season, and I can guarantee you more offense in probably just the first quarter of this game than in the entire four quarters of last Monday’s twice-delayed Pittsburgh at San Francisco slug-fest.

Actually, the Steelers could have done the Saints a huge favor by winning. As things stand, the Saints (11-3) still would be the NFC’s No. 3 seed behind Green Bay (13-1) and San Francisco (11-3) and thus, would have to play on wild-card weekend.

The Saints need to finish a game ahead of the Niners to clinch the No. 2 spot.

New Orleans, which already has clinched at least a wild-card spot, can take the NFC South with a win over Atlanta (9-5). The Falcons would need to win out and have New Orleans lose out for Atlanta to repeat as division champions.

The Falcons can clinch a wild-card spot with a win or tie. Or they can clinch with losses by Dallas, Chicago and Arizona OR losses by the Giants, Bears and Cardinals.

The Falcons close their regular season with a home game against Tampa Bay on Jan. 1. The Saints will finish at home against Carolina.


Falcons at Saints Betting Story Lines

Atlanta has won two in a row and four of five. The Falcons will have some extra rest for this one after crushing Jacksonville at the Georgia Dome last Thursday, 41-14. Matt Ryan continued his sparkling play of late with three TD passes and 224 yards and a season-high rating of 137.3 in less than three quarters. And defensive end John Abraham had his best game of the year with 3.5 sacks. He appears over a groin injury that slowed him earlier this season.

That extra time off could play a big role here.

Coach Mike Smith is expecting cornerbacks Brent Grimes, a Pro Bowler last season, and Kelvin Hayden to return to practice Tuesday (perhaps Thursday for Hayden) as the Falcons begin preparing. Grimes, who normally starts opposite Dunta Robinson, missed the last three games after having a minor surgical procedure on his knee. Hayden had been the team’s primary nickel back, but he missed the last four games with a toe injury.

With Green Bay losing last week, suddenly New Orleans looks like the NFL’s most unstoppable team.

Drew Brees is making a late push for NFL MVP. In Sunday’s 42-20 win at Minnesota, Brees threw for 412 yards and five touchdowns in the Saints’ sixth win in a row. Brees became just the sixth player in NFL history to throw for 400 yards with at least five passing TDs and zero interceptions—it hadn’t been done since Donovan McNabb back in 2004.

Brees has 4,780 yards passing on the season and is 305 yards shy of breaking Dan Marino’s single-season record of 5,084 yards, which was set in 1984. Brees has already set a career high with 37 TD passes and an NFL record with 11 games passing of at least 300 yards. 

He has thrown for 322 yards or more in five-straight games, tossing 16 touchdowns and zero interceptions during that span. On the season, Brees is averaging 341.4 passing yards per game. Did I mention he will be free agent after this season? Of course there’s no way the Saints don’t lock him up or franchise tag him.

It’s not clear yet if the Saints will have rookie RB Mark Ingram for this one after he missed a second consecutive game with a turf toe injury.

One of the most controversial coaching decisions in the NFL this season came during the Nov. 13 matchup between these two in Atlanta. The Saints defeated the Falcons 26-23 in overtime (ATL was -1) after coach Mike Smith’s controversial decision to go for a fourth-and-one at Atlanta’s 29-yard line with 10:52 left in overtime. That decision looms very large right now.

Atlanta had rallied from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter, tying it on Matt Bryant's 27-yard field goal on the final play of regulation. Brees threw for 322 and two scores in that one but wasn’t picked off or sacked, while Ryan threw for 351 and two TDs with a pick.

The New Orleans running game was invisible with just 41 yards on 16 carries. Both teams were missing key defenders due to injury: the Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma and the Falcons safety William Moore. Ingram returned for New Orleans after missing two games but had just 11 yards on eight carries.


Falcons at Saints Betting Odds and Trends

New Orleans opened as a 6.5-point favorite with the total at 53 on NFL odds.

The Falcons are 6-7-1 ATS this season and 3-4 ATS on road. The Saints are 10-4 ATS overall and 6-0 at home. "Over/under" records: NO 7-7, ATL 5-9.

The Falcons are 1-4 ATS in past five Monday Night Football games and 1-4 ATS overall in the past five versus teams with a winning record. The Saints are 5-0 ATS in the past five following a win and as a favorite.

The "under" is 7-1 in Atlanta’s past eight following a win. The "over" is 8-1 in the Saints’ past nine following a win of more than 14 points.

The underdog has covered in the past five meetings in this series.


Falcons at Saints Betting Predictions and Football Preview

The Saints seem a lock for at least 30 at home, so you have to go "over" the total here even though it’s pretty high. And I believe that in the Superdome the Saints are unbeatable this year.

I would wait until after the 49ers game at Seattle on Sunday afternoon to bet this one—a Niners loss gives New Orleans even more motivation in this one to grab that No. 2 seed.

But I think Saints cover regardless in a 38-28 win.

Doc Moseman is the owner of Doc's Sports football picks Web site.