To paraphrase a noted linguist who happened to be president of the United States in the first eight years of the 2000s, maybe we’ve been misunderestimating the Atlanta Falcons.
With just five games left in the regular season, the NFC is waking up to the very real possibility that the new Dirty Birds just might up and grab the No. 1 seed and get two playoff home games, where they are next to unbeatable. And bettors who haven’t been on board have been paying a heavy price. The post-Michael Vick Falcons are 7-4 ATS.
Everyone in the football world knows the Jets and Patriots are both 9-2 and will be breaking that deadlock in a few days in one of the most anticipated Monday Night games in history. Yet on Sunday the Falcons, who are a stealth 9-2 of their own, can go a long way toward locking down the powerful NFC with a win over the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay (Falcons -3, 44).
The weeks are dwindling to a precious few and a check of the schedule shows that the Falcons have two games left with the Panthers, so if Atlanta is going to be taken down, now is a pretty good time.
Many Falcons doubters, and there have been more than a few, went silent last Sunday when Atlanta beat back a good Packers team that boasts road wins over the Jets and Eagles on its resume. That the Falcons did the job on defense in that game was probably as stunning to Green Bay as it was to Atlanta fans who often have cringed when the defense took the field.
The Falcons’ defense did allow 431 total yards, but it flushed Aaron Rodgers out of the pocket all day and forced him to make plays. And while Rodgers was sacked only once, he was banged around plenty by Atlanta’s speed rushers.
Then there’s Matt Ryan, who is damn near unbeatable (19-1 career) in the Georgia Dome. Ryan was beaten by Rodgers on the stat sheet, but he’s starting to channel the 2001 Tom Brady – making plays to keep drives alive, moving the chains and never ever turning over the ball. The Falcons have four straight games without a turnover.
On Sunday, Tampa Bay, and the public, may be ready to buy in.
“The Falcons have attracted the most action of any team since we opened Week 13 lines,” notes Belmont.com
oddsmaker Peter Childs.
And yet doubts still persist.
“I am not a believer in the Falcons,” says handicapper Steve Merril, echoing the views of many in the gambling community, “but they are finding ways to win games and cover the spread. A lot of it has to do with a plus-1 turnover margin this season. To their credit, it’s because Ryan throws only about one interception every two games this year (0.5 per game), while the defense is averaging plus-1.4 interceptions per game. However, statistically the Falcons are being outgained 6.1 to 5.4 yards per play this season, so I feel eventually they will be exposed against quality playoff teams.”
Childs points to motivation for Tampa Bay Sunday.
“I think this is a very difficult spot for the Falcons, as they're off that big win against the Packers at home. Now they take on a desperate Bucs team who are in a must-win situation. A loss to the Falcons and they're 7-5 and pretty much eliminated from playoff contention. The Bucs are off a loss and you have to expect they'll bring their A-game this week and the Falcons could be a bit flat. These two teams played earlier in the month with the Falcons winning by six, but failing to cover the 10-point closing number. The Bucs were one goal-line stand from taking a one-point lead over the Falcons in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. It was a close game and again, that was at home for the Falcons where they simply play much better football.”
Childs says that early money came down on Atlanta but he expects sharp action on Tampa Bay as the game nears. Adults might be ready to take over in Denver
Can things get any worse for Boy King Josh McDaniels?
The situation changes almost by the hour and already this week the team has contradicted itself about whether McDaniels’s job is safe. On Monday, owner Pat Bowlen said that his embattled HC would return next season and on Tuesday the ice started to crack under the coach’s feet when the club was forced to issue a qualifying statement, saying that it will evaluate how things go for the rest of the season.
Bowlen is now in the uncomfortable position of having to either fire McDaniels and pay for three head coaches next season (he’s still on the hook for part of Mike Shanahan’s deal) or risk a fan rebellion and keep him.
The Broncos are pretty much assured of a last-place finish in the AFC West. They’ve been a crappy cover team all season (3-8 ATS) and, with three straight road games, appear prime fade candidates for the final five contests.
Denver is at Kansas City this week (Chiefs -9, 48).
If McDaniels is looking for a job come January, he can forget about a return to New England after the way he threw the Patriots under the bus with his comments early this week about videotaping when he was at New England.
Bill Belichick has been burned now by both McDaniels and Eric Mangini, and it’s a bit revealing that no one of the NE coaching staff has the offensive or defensive coordinator titles. Jackson and Reid have it out
Pouting receivers are nothing new in the NFL, but they’re thicker than crabgrass this season. Owens, Ochocinco, Marshall, Crabtree, Bryant. You could write a book about Moss. Now you can add Philadelphia’s DeSean Jackson to the list.
Jackson has never been shy about stating his opinions. In fact, he was vocal preferring Kevin Kolb over the departed Donovan McNabb. But he had been quietly going about his business this season until last week’s loss in Chicago, where Jackson had just two catches in 26 yards.
Eagles coach Andy Reid was apparently ticked that Jackson didn’t seem interested when Reid was talking to the team in the locker room and the coach proceeded to treat Jackson the way the shrink does to that wimpy guy in the Geico commercial. Seems Reid also thought that Jackson was not taking pregame warmups too seriously and felt it helped lead to the loss to the Bears.
Reports out of Philadelphia indicated that by Tuesday, Jackson was sill sulking and Reid had reverted to coach-speak, saying everything was hunky dory and it will be a non-issue on Thursday when the Eagles host Houston (Philly -8.5, 51). Quote of the Week“Guessing has never been widely acclaimed as a good gambling strategy.”