Falcons start Week 14 NFC blockbusters with season-saving victory

By Jeff Fogle  (VSiN City newsletter) 

December 8, 2017 12:07 AM
Robert Alford (23) celebrates with Falcons linebacker Deion Jones (45) after Jones' interception in the end zone held off the Saints in the closing minutes.
© USA Today Sports Images

Atlanta saved its season with a fourth quarter rally and a late defensive stop Thursday night against division leading New Orleans. Plus, discussion of Minnesota/Carolina, and Philadelphia/Los Angeles (two ways!) as we close out the week in VSiN City.

Thursday NFL: Saints fall short when Drew Brees throws an interception in the end zone with 1:25 left

An Atlanta Falcons defense that was averaging one interception per month this season made its December catch count! With 1:25 to go in the game, Deion Jones jumped high to snare a Drew Brees pass in the end zone, then landed hard on his back to protect a 20-17 lead. 

Atlanta (-2) 20 New Orleans 17 

Yards-per-Play: New Orleans 5.9, Atlanta 5.3

Total Yards: New Orleans 306, Atlanta 343

Third Down Pct: New Orleans 30%, Atlanta 58%

Rushing Yards: New Orleans 50, Atlanta 132

Passing Stats: New Orleans 26-35-1-256, Atlanta 15-27-3-211

Turnovers: New Orleans 1, Atlanta 3

Touchdown Drive Lengths: New Orleans 66-29, Atlanta 90-69

New Orleans seemed to have the best of it most of the night. The Saints held an edge in yards-per-play from early on. They carried a 17-10 lead into the fourth quarter with the superior defense. And Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was having a very shaky evening. Yet, when it MATTERED, it was the Falcons executing while the Saints turned virtually a certain overtime as a worst-case scenario into a loss. 

Note how the running game, and the ability to move the chains kept Atlanta alive even while Ryan was throwing passes to the wrong team. Many of those third down failures for the Saints were “service breaks” even if they weren’t turnovers. 

New Orleans still leads the NFC South at 9-4, pending second-place Carolina’s game against Minnesota on Sunday (more on that in a moment). But this greatly diminishes its chances to catch either Minnesota or Philadelphia from behind for a first-round bye. Atlanta stays alive in the crowded Wildcard race at 8-5. Seattle and Carolina currently hold both Wildcards with 8-4 records, but both are short underdogs this Sunday. The Falcons now lead the three longshots behind them (Detroit, Green Bay, and Dallas all tied at 6-6) by 1.5 games. 

This was the first of three blockbusters in the NFC this weekend…games potentially matching the six eventual playoff entries (though Seattle will have a lot to say about that). Let’s run some numbers for the other two.

NFL Preview: Minnesota Vikings hope to solidify hold on #1 seed in Carolina

A lot to talk about in two big NFC clashes Sunday. Let’s jump right into the biggest matchup of the early TV window.

Minnesota (10-2) at Carolina (8-4)

Las Vegas Line: Minnesota by 2.5, total of 40.5

Estimated Market Power Ratings: Minnesota 86, Carolina 81

We had the Power Ratings at 86-80 back on Tuesday when the line was Vikings -3. The market is showing -2.5 now. And even if the number keeps hopping back and forth, there’s enough sharp interest at Panthers plus 3 that we should just make our differential five. So, we lifted the Panthers up to 81. Minnesota is being priced like a Super Bowl team. Carolina like a good Wildcard team. 


Minnesota: 5.6 on offense, 4.8 on defense (vs. #13 schedule)

Carolina: 5.1 on offense, 5.2 on defense (vs. #6 schedule)

Minnesota is a very solid plus 0.8 against slightly better than a league average schedule. And, that’s right in the sweet spot for playoff success because teams with great defenses who can move the ball are very tough to beat. Imagine a team at 6.3 and 5.5. Same differential, but the defense is vulnerable, and prone to wear down vs. quality in a playoff battle. The Vikings are less likely to do that…particularly if they’re able to host every game. The Super Bowl is on the Vikings’ home field this season. 

Carolina is just barely negative, which would turn positive against an average schedule. That schedule only gets tougher this week. To this point, the key indicators stats are in line with the estimated “market” Power Ratings and general perceptions.  

Key Passing Stats 

Minnesota: 7.6 yards-per-pass attempt, 19 TD’s, 5 interceptions thrown

Carolina: 6.8 yards-per-pass attempt, 16 TD’s, 11 interceptions thrown

Did you think Case Keenum could do this? Would Sam Bradford have pulled this off? Probably not. No reason to clamor for Teddy Bridgewater. He’s an inspirational story, and will get his chance at some point. Those are strong numbers by this year’s standards. Can’t take the keys away from Keenum! Carolina hasn’t impressed in this area because Cam Newton has been banged up. Though…give him an average schedule and that wouldn’t look so bad. Give him the schedule you’ll see from the Eagles and Rams in a moment, and he might still look like a star. 

Pass Defense 

Minnesota: 6.5 yppa allowed; 12 TD’s allowed, 9 interceptions

Carolina: 7.0 yppa allowed; 18 TD’s allowed, 5 interceptions

Trouble here for Carolina. Though its overall yards-per-play is good, the Panthers are making opposing quarterbacks look pretty effective on yards-per-pass-attempt. That’s basically Andy Dalton’s per-pass average, but the TD/INT ratio of Drew Brees. Keenum can make some big plays. If Newton is still only a partial percentage of his normal self…he’s not going to get much done against this stellar Vikings unit. The last two weeks, Carolina had a passing line of 11-28-0-154 in New York against the Jets (a misleadingly high scoring game), and one of 17-28-0-167 in New Orleans.  

Impact Defense 

Minnesota: 27% third down pct-allowed, 14 takeaways, 30 sacks

Carolina: 36% third down pct-allowed, 11 takeaways, 34 sacks

Wow…only 27% this deep into the season on third-down conversions allowed for the Vikings against an average schedule. That’s for real, making the outlook gloomier for Carolina. There is a chance that the Panthers defense can disrupt Keenum enough to create a coin flip. Minnesota only won by five at Atlanta last week, and by seven two weeks ago at Detroit (meaning this is a third straight road spot for the Vikes!). 

You can see why the Over/Under is so low. Minnesota is likely to shut down Newton. Carolina is hoping to shut down Keenum. Vikings/Falcons only made it to 14-9 last week at Atlanta. The “critical score” at a line of Minnesota -2.5 and 40.5 is Minnesota 21.5, Carolina 19. Not much margin for error in terms of cheapies being scored on defense or special teams. Feels like the “safest” betting approach is Minnesota (-) anything less than a field goal on the assumption that Newton’s recent passing struggles will continue against an elite defense. The fact that it’s a third straight road game for the Vikings has to dampen enthusiasm some. 

NFL Preview: A dream battle of young QB’s as the Philadelphia Eagles visit the Los Angeles Rams

Carson Wentz and Jared Goff were the stars of 2016 Draft Day. Now they meet for the first time as professionals, in a huge December showdown in the midst of the 2017-18 championship chase. That was fast!

Philadelphia (10-2) at LA Rams (9-3)

Las Vegas Line: LA Rams by 2, total of 48

Estimated Market Power Ratings: Philadelphia 86, LA Rams 85

We talked about this point spread the other day. Philadelphia was getting a ton of respect at Seattle in the marketplace. Some of that has disappeared. We’re not that comfortable with the Rams at 85. Why will become clear in a moment. But, these teams have to be close together if LAR is -2 at home. This is the showcase attraction of the late TV window.


Philadelphia: 5.7 on offense, 4.9 on defense (vs. #28 schedule)

LA Rams: 5.9 on offense, 5.3 on defense (vs. #24 schedule)

Don’t skip over those schedule strengths. It’s very important heading to the playoffs that informed bettors are aware that the Eagles and Rams have had much easier schedules than some of the other playoff-bound NFC teams. That may be part of why Philadelphia couldn’t establish dominance in Seattle as a favorite (turning the ball over twice and allowing three long TD drives to Russell Wilson), and why the Rams were squashed so hard when they visited Minnesota (losing YPP 6.2 to 4.5). The Eagles are only plus 0.8 against an easy schedule. LAR might be just a smidge above equilibrium against a league average slate. 

Key Passing Stats 

Philadelphia: 7.6 yards-per-pass attempt, 29 TD’s, 6 interceptions thrown

LA Rams: 8.2 yards-per-pass attempt, 20 TD’s, 6 interceptions thrown

Hey, give the kids credit. Wentz and Goff are abusing the weak defenses they’ve been facing. That’s a 49/12 TD/INT ratio combined for them! Good tests for both Sunday, as you’ll see in a second. We’ll learn a lot about how these guys will perform in January based on what happens Sunday. 

Pass Defense 

Philadelphia: 6.4 yppa allowed; 17 TD’s allowed, 16 interceptions

LA Rams: 6.9 yppa allowed; 14 TD’s allowed, 14 interceptions

Excellent numbers for both pass defenses. Even if you make some mental adjustments for schedule strength, that’s still very strong. If either Wentz or Goff has a big game here, that’s going to mean something for the playoffs. A bad game for Goff in particular, at home, is probably a sign that you shouldn’t back the Rams on the road at Seattle next week or in January. 

Impact Defense 

Philadelphia: 30% third down pct-allowed, 22 takeaways, 33 sacks

LA Rams: 38% third down pct-allowed, 21 takeaways, 38 sacks

The Rams are more vulnerable defensively on third downs, but more likely to get sacks that might end up forcing punts anyway. We need to remember here that the Saints players had significant troubles with the sun angle at the Coliseum when they played in this time slot a couple of weeks ago. Both offensive receivers and the defensive secondary. If the same thing happens to the Eagles, then Wentz is likely to become frustrated against this defense. 

The “critical score” at this line is Rams 25, Eagles 23. An unlikely scoreboard count. And probably a bit optimistic given what we’ve just seen about these pass defenses. The math in the market may be responding too much to the way these offenses pile up points on soft opponents. Eagles/Seahawks stayed Under by 12 points. Saints/Rams stayed Under by 8 points with a late garbage time TD. Rams/Vikings stayed Under by 15 points. But, it’s likely one Under bettors would have to sweat because these are good QB’s, and they may drive themselves higher if the game starts to see-saw. 

Very important game to watch as a precursor to the big challenge the Rams will face in Seattle next week, and the playoffs. 

We have time for some NBA…particularly a parallel matchup of young stars who play professionally in the same cities!

Thursday NBA: Lonzo Ball and the LA Lakers upset Ben Simmons and the Philadelphia 76ers

Given the youth of these points guards (Ball just turned 20 years old in October, Simmons is 21), it very much felt like a battle of young quarterbacks when the Lakers and Sixers put NBA twitter into a tizzy Thursday night. 

Very exciting game, with star performances all over. Here are the team numbers…

LA Lakers (plus 8) 107, Philadelphia 104

Two-Point Pct: LA Lakers 46%, Philadelphia 53%

Three-Pointers: LA Lakers 11/28, Philadelphia 10/26

Free Throws: LA Lakers 12/24, Philadelphia 16/21

Rebounds: LA Lakers 44, Philadelphia 44

Turnovers: LA Lakers 12, Philadelphia 18

Brandon Ingram hit a three-pointer with two seconds left to win the game (assisted by Ball). The Lakers wouldn’t have had to sweat the ending if they hadn’t missed half of their free throws. 

Let’s check out the “quarterbacks.”

  • Lonzo Ball: 10 points, 8 assists, 8 rebounds, 0 turnovers
  • Ben Simmons: 12 points, 15 assists, 13 rebounds, 4 turnovers

Ball has had a shaky start to his pro career. But you can’t argue with a turnover-free night on the road as an underdog of that size. He clearly has some work to do on his shooting form (click here to read a great article from the Ringer on that very issue). He still has that high basketball IQ we talked about during summer league. He can last a long time in the league even if his shot doesn’t develop as much as hoped. Maybe it will.

For Simmons…triple doubles are becoming less newsworthy in the NBA with each passing day. But FIFTEEN assists for a 21-year old who couldn’t learn anything in college because he was surrounded by dolts?! Big number. Simmons is shooting 50% from the floor this season, with a total emphasis on two-point attempts (outside of buzzer heaves). Simmons is definitely the real deal. We have a better sense now of how horrible things were at LSU when he was there. 

The Lakers move to 9-15 with the win, ending a five-game losing streak. Philadelphia falls to 13-11 with the loss, having inexplicably lost home games to the Suns and Lakers after an impressive 13-9 start. The Sixers visit Cleveland and LeBron James Saturday night (the Lakers are in Charlotte). 

That wraps up the week here in VSiN City.

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