2016 Season NFL Football Past Picks

February 05, 2017


New England vs. Atlanta

Sunday 02/05 06:30 PM Eastern

1 unit on New England -3 (+100) (risk 1 to return 2)  RESULT: WIN

This line pegs these teams fairly close. Are they? 

The New England Patriots started the season without their star quarterback with Tom Brady serving a four-game suspension. They went 3-1 during that span and lost only one more game the rest of the year. The Pats have put together a historic ATS record this season too (15-3). Patriots fans are beaming again while those that hate the Pats (a growing number) are bemoaning another big game with Brady and Belichick.

Atlanta was a long shot at the start of the year to be in this game. After an opening day loss to the Bucs, very few had faith that this team would be playing in February. After winning four in a row, the Falcons lost a couple of games, putting them just one game above .500 at the end of October. After twelve weeks, Atlanta was 7-5 before finishing the regular season with four straight victories.

New England is 16-2 while Atlanta is 13-5 and that's not an insignificant difference. From an ATS standpoint on the season, the Pats have lost just three times while Atlanta failed to live up to market expectations twice as many times (six). So from a performance standpoint, advantage New England. And, let's not forget that four of those New England games (including one straight-up and ATS loss) came without Brady under center. What must be considered also is strength of schedule and Atlanta played a much tougher one than New England. This mitigates the Pat's straight-up record advantage. But, ATS performance accounts for strength-of-opponent. So to me, the Pats do seem like the better team.

What about stats? Atlanta as we know has the #1 offense in the league (#1 in scoring offense and #2 in yards per game). New England ranks 3rd in scoring offense and 4th in yards per game. So, slight advantage here to Atlanta.

On defense, there is no comparison. The Falcons rank 22nd in the league in yards allowed and 23rd in points allowed while New England is 8th in yards and #1 in points allowed. Big advantage New England. Again, strength of schedule needs to be considered, but I would certainly not change my view here based on that alone.

So while New England looks like the better team on the surface (better record, better ATS performance, much better defense, slightly worse offense and easier schedule), Atlanta must have something strong going for them to keep this line as low as it is. Right? A better coach, or a coach with more experience? Nope. A better quarterback? Arguably, this season Matt Ryan has been better. But Tom Brady is probably the best QB in the history of the game with Super Bowl rings and a fire and passion like no other.

And, how much better is Matt Ryan this year, really? Or is he? Ryan threw for 38 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 16 games. That's 2.4 touchdowns per game and a 5.4 to 1 TD-to-INT ratio. Tom Brady threw 28 touchdowns and just two picks in 12 games. That's a near identical 2.3 TDs per game and a much better 14-to-1 ratio! I'll tell you what. I will take Tom Brady over Matt Ryan any day, including this Sunday.

So, we have the better team, with arguably the best NFL coach ever and best NFL quarterback ever, with a big defensive advantage and they are laying.... only 3 points. Hmmmm.

Let's dig deeper...

How many points with Atlanta score?

Atlanta led the league in scoring, averaging 34.4 points per game. This team scored 33+ points 13 times including six straight games to end the season. Matt Ryan has put together one of the best seasons by any QB, ever.

New England's defense was tops in the league, allowing 15.7 points per game. And, they were very consistent, allowing just one team to reach more than 25 points. And, the defense has been getting stronger. In the second half of the season including their two playoff games, the Pats allowed just 13.3 points per game - a very elite level.

So what will happen when Atlanta's offense takes the field? Based on those two numbers, we might expect them to score around 25 points. But, let's look at a bit of history in the Super Bowl. Number one offenses rarely live up to expectations in the big game. In fact, they often fall short... way short. Since the turn of the century, this game has featured the league's top scoring offense nine times. These teams that were averaging 30+ points per game, scored an average of 18 points in those nine Super Bowls. This includes some amazing offenses that were easily at least the equal of the 2016 Falcons. Remember how Cam Newton and the #1 Panthers offense did last year? They scored 10 points.

Meanwhile, how do #1 defenses do in the Super Bowl? Teams with the lowest average points per game allowed have gone 13-5 the last 18 times. New England held 14 opponents this season to 21 points or fewer. Where they aided by a kind schedule? Yes. But against the bad offenses, they were absolutely dominant - a sign of a defense that can also hold down better offenses. And in their last five games including two playoff games, the Pats kept everyone to 17 points or fewer. Atlanta poses a much tougher challenge - the best offense New England has faced all season, by far. But, all signs point to the Pats being able to keep Matt Ryan and company in relative check.

So in the end, I see Atlanta scoring somewhere in the mid 20s in this game.

How many points with New England score?

While not up to par with Atlanta's, New England has a great offense that averaged 28.4 points per game, only behind New Orleans and Atlanta. And, that includes four games without Tom Brady. With Tom Brady taking snaps, they averaged 30.7 per game. This team scored 30+ points in ten games including five of their last six (with Denver's excellent defense the only team to hold the Pats down).

Atlanta's defense is below mediocre. This team allowed 24.8 points per game and against great offenses (like New England's), the Falcons allowed nearly 30 points per game (32 to New Orleans twice, 32 and 21 to Green Bay).

So, it seems reasonable to conclude that the Pats are likely to score in the low 30s in this game. 

Based on the statistical analysis, this game looks like a 31-24 type contest or something in that range. And my gut tells me this spread should be about 6 points as well.

On top of that, the Patriots have Bellichick and Brady, and this team is on a mission. Why a mission? Whenever this duo gets accused of cheating (real or percieved - I don't care), they come back wtih a vengeance, giving a big middle finger to the NFL commissioner, the league and their opponents.

After Spygate in 2007, the Pats put together an 18-1 record, crushing opponents along the way.

After deflategate in 2015, the Pats reeled off 10 straight wins to start the next season, ending with a 14-5 record.

And after Tom Brady's four game suspsension this year, the Pats are 14-1 with Tom Brady back at the helm.

If you are counting, that combines for a 46-7 record following challenges to Brady and Belichick's honor. This team means business and has a chip on their collective shoulder. This duo is in fighting mode with something to prove.

Desipite all of their success, Brady and Belichick are motivated here, and not just by the Brady suspension. Is Tom Brady the best QB ever? A win here gives him one more Super Bowl win than the great Joe Montana, all but cementing things for Brady. Is Bellichick the best NFL coach of all time? A win here also boosts him to a spot alone at the top with 5 Super Bowl rings.

There is a lot of motivation in this game for a great team with the number one defense and arguably the best coach and quarterback to ever play the game, who is playing at the same level as his opposing quarterback. Laying a few points is a no-brainer. While something like turnovers could easily lead to an Atlanta win, the right bet is on the Pats minus the field goal. Take New England to win and cover.


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