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Falcons stumble into showdown with Saints, but eliminate Pack

Jeff Fogle  
VSiN City newsletter

December 19, 2017 12:01 AM

Devonta Freeman runs for a touchdown against the Bucs.
© USA Today Sports Images

Atlanta grabs a tighter hold on the final NFC Wildcard spot with an unimpressive 24-21 win at Tampa Bay. A look at the Wildcard races in both conferences plus our updated “market” Power Ratings right now in VSiN City. 

Monday Night Football: Atlanta Falcons survive but don’t scare rest of NFC in unimpressive win
If you watched the game, you know that the Atlanta Falcons had long stretches where they seemed to move the ball at will, but didn’t put enough of that production on the scoreboard to earn a comfortable win. In fact, they had to sweat the ending. Jameis Winston, ailing shoulder and all, put Tampa Bay in position to try a long, last second field goal that barely sailed right. 

Atlanta (-7) 24, Tampa Bay 21
Yards-per-Play: Atlanta 6.1, Tampa Bay 6.8
Total Yards: Atlanta 410, Tampa Bay 373
Third Down Pct: Atlanta 60%, Tampa Bay 50% 
Turnovers: Atlanta 0, Tampa Bay 1
Rushing Yards: Atlanta 201, Tampa Bay 84
Passing Stats: Atlanta 17-31-0-209, Tampa Bay 27-35-1-289
TD Drive Lengths: Atlanta 62-77-87, Tampa Bay 75-53-75

Atlanta had a field goal blocked, which still wouldn’t have covered the spread. The most glaring failure from the Falcons involved their pass defense. Winston could only throw to certain parts of the field. He still almost totaled 300 yards in the air anyway. Falcons aren’t going to win any playoff games that way. 

Atlanta moves to 9-5 with the win. We’ll look at how that influences the Wildcard race momentarily. Tampa Bay falls to 4-10. 

NFL Wildcard Races: Atlanta’s win eliminates Green Bay as field narrows for final two games
Let’s start in the NFC since that’s fresh in our minds. Note that Atlanta’s win Monday night eliminated the Green Bay Packers. The Pack is 7-7, and lost straight up to Atlanta. GB’s best-case scenario is 9-7. That’s Atlanta’s worst. 

NFC Wildcard Standings (top two will qualify)
Carolina 10-4 (6-4 in the NFC)
Atlanta 9-5 (8-2 in the NFC)
Detroit 8-6 (7-4 in the NFC)
Seattle 8-6 (6-4 in the NFC)
Dallas 8-6 (6-4 in the NFC)

Carolina’s in great shape, and will clinch a berth if it wins at home vs. Tampa Bay on Sunday. Atlanta looks very good in the tie-breaker scenarios because of that 8-2 record in conference play…and because it holds straight up wins over Detroit, Seattle, and Dallas. But there’s a chance the Falcons will finish 9-7 because New Orleans and Carolina are still left…and because they could barely beat Tampa Bay Monday night! 

Here’s what’s left for all the contenders... 

Carolina 10-4 (vs. Tampa Bay, at Atlanta)
Atlanta 9-5 (at New Orleans, vs. Carolina)
Detroit 8-6 (at Cincinnati, vs. Green Bay)
Seattle 8-6 (at Dallas, vs. Arizona)
Dallas 8-6 (vs. Seattle, at Philadelphia)

It’s pretty bleak for the 8-6 teams. If Atlanta upsets New Orleans Sunday, none of the 8-6 teams can win a tie-breaker over the Falcons. If Atlanta loses to New Orleans and Carolina wins as a big favorite over Tampa Bay…then in Week 17 the Falcons will host a “lame duck” Carolina team with nothing at stake beyond determining where they’d play on Wildcard weekend. 

Consensus Offshore odds to win Super Bowl for NFC teams: Minnesota 6/1, Philadelphia 9/1, New Orleans 10/1, LA Rams 10/1, Carolina 16/1, Atlanta 16/1, Dallas 50/1, Seattle 50/1, Detroit 66/1. 

AFC Wildcard Standings (top two will qualify)
Tennessee 8-6 (7-4 in the AFC)
Buffalo 8-6 (6-4 in the AFC) 
Baltimore 8-6 (6-4 in the AFC)
LA Chargers 7-7 (4-6 in the AFC)
Oakland 6-8 (5-6 in the AFC)
Miami 6-8 (5-5 in the AFC)

Both Oakland and Miami are “in the hunt” on those official NFL graphics. But both are big dogs on the road this week. Miami has to play at Kansas City, which needs to win. Oakland plays Christmas night in Philadelphia, which also has a lot at stake in terms of the top seed in the NFC. The Raiders are not mathematically out…but it would take a few miracles. Let’s just look at the schedules for the top four. 

Tennessee 8-6 (vs. LA Rams, vs. Jacksonville)
Buffalo 8-6 (at New England, at Miami) 
Baltimore 8-6 (vs. Indianapolis, vs. Cincinnati)
LA Chargers 7-7 (at NY Jets, vs. Oakland)

Tennessee has some sweating to do after losing in San Francisco. The Titans are a home dog Sunday to the Rams, but might catch Jacksonville in a lame duck spot in Week 17. Baltimore has the easiest schedule, with virtual home gifts. 

Consensus Offshore odds to win Super Bowl for AFC teams: New England 9/4, Pittsburgh 6/1, Jacksonville 13/1, Kansas City 16/1, Baltimore 25/1, LA Chargers 40/1, Tennessee 100/1, Buffalo 100/1. 

The overseas markets sure have soured on the Titans. New England is the overall favorite at 9/4. Minnesota still has a shot to play nothing but home games in the postseason. 

NFL: New Estimated Market Power Ratings
On Tuesdays we update our estimate of how “the market” is rating all 32 pro football teams. Here are the Monday evening lines we’ll be using to build this week’s scale. 

Indianapolis at Baltimore (-13.5/41)
Minnesota at Green Bay (NL pending status of Rodgers in meaningless game for GB)
Detroit (-5/43) at Cincinnati
LA Chargers (-7/42.5) at the NY Jets
LA Rams (-6.5/48.5) at Tennessee
Cleveland at Chicago (-6.5/38.5) 
Tampa Bay at Carolina (-9.5/46.5, could change after MNF)
Atlanta at New Orleans (-5.5/52, could change after MNF)
Denver at Washington (-3.5/41)
Miami at Kansas City (-10/44)
Buffalo at New England (-11.5/47)
Jacksonville (-4.5/42.5) at San Francisco
NY Giants at Arizona (-4/40)
Seattle at Dallas (-4.5/47)
Pittsburgh (-9.5/44.5) at Houston
Oakland at Philadelphia (-9/47.5)

If you’re new to VSiN City, we use those lines to build “couplets” that we place on a Power Ratings scale. We use a standard three points for home field advantage. Kansas City is -10 at home against Miami this week. With home field being worth three points, that means KC is seven points better on a neutral field. We try to find a spot on the scale that makes sense for that combination. You’ll see in a second that we went with 81 and 74. Maybe 82 and 75 is a better couplet. Or, maybe we’re too high and it’s 80 and 73. We make a good faith effort to get every couplet in the right spot. Feel free to let us know if you think we’re off base.  

87: New England
85: Pittsburgh, Minnesota, New Orleans, LA Rams
84: Jacksonville, Atlanta
82: LA Chargers, Philadelphia (with Foles), Dallas (with Elliot), Carolina, Green Bay (with Rodgers)
81: Kansas City 
80: Baltimore, Seattle
79: Detroit
77: Buffalo, San Francisco (with Garappolo)
76: Tennessee, Oakland, Washington 
75: Denver, Tampa Bay, Arizona
74: Miami, NY Giants, Chicago  
73: Houston 
72: NY Jets (with Petty) 
71: Cincinnati (?)
70: Indianapolis, Cleveland

A lot to think through this week as the market tries to adjust to late surges or late collapses. Here’s a few matchups worthy of additional discussion. 

Detroit (79) at Cincinnati (71): The shorthanded and dispirited Bengals have looked so bad the past two weeks that the market has decided to treat them like Cleveland. If Detroit is -5 on the road, we have to slot the Lions eight places higher. It’s unlikely Detroit’s suddenly surged up into the 80’s out of the blue. Maybe we should be at 78 and 70, with the Bengals on the lowest possible rung. 

LA Rams (85) at Tennessee (76): This game sure blew our scale this week…with the Rams laying -6.5 on the road against a playoff contender. Sure, they looked great at Seattle last week. They didn’t look so great two weeks ago against Philadelphia. Tennessee hasn’t sparkled in a while. But the Titans were just seconds away from beating Garappolo last week. Based on prior pricing, something like 83 or 84 would have made more sense for the Rams, maybe 77 at the lowest for the Titans. We’ll see how it goes. Tough to have LAR so close to where Minnesota and Philadelphia “with Wentz” were when it fared so poorly head-to-head with those two. But the offshore futures pricing showing Tennessee at 100-1 are suggesting 76 may be the correct rung. 

Buffalo (77) at New England (87): We brought New England back down to 87 after being forced to put the Pats at 90 last week as a road favorite at Pittsburgh. The game stats didn’t justify that representation, though they did ultimately win by a field goal in a dramatic finish. If the Patriots are -13 vs. the Bills in Foxboro, that suggests 10 points better on a neutral field. A combo of 87 and 77 feels much more accurate than 90 and 80. Buffalo’s not an 80. 

Jacksonville (84) at San Francisco (77): Also a surprise, with the Jags laying -4.5 after a cross-country flight. San Francisco has played well with Garappolo. Jacksonville hasn’t been priced like this in ages. Yes, the Jags can squash bad teams with lousy quarterbacks. We had to drop the Niners a point after a game they pushed, and lift the Jags a couple even though all the really did was humiliate T.J. Yates. Maybe some “playoff need” in the equation, on the assumption the public will bet the team that is chasing a possible bye. Will be VERY interesting to see Garappolo against this great Jacksonville defense. 

Seattle (80) at Dallas (82): Ezekiel Elliot is back for Dallas, and they’ve won a few in a row now. So, they have to pop back up to “playoff caliber” until they show otherwise. Maybe Seattle should have been down at 80 all season long (or 79, even). It’s possible that Dallas -5 is more reflective of an 81-79 combo. Probably not 83-81 given inconsistency from both. Ten more minutes and we might have gone with 81-79.  

Oakland (76) at Philadelphia (82): Tricky one. Oakland was just plus 3 at home against Dallas without Elliott, which would suggest only 74. It’s been awhile since the Raiders played well, but mid 70s isn’t out of character for how they’ve been priced in recent weeks. Hard to drop Philadelphia “with Foles” all the way down to 81 off a non-cover against the Giants. Maybe 81 and 75 is right. Heck, maybe 80 and 74 is right because Philadelphia’s defense has disappeared the past couple of weeks. We might have to wait for the NFC brackets to see what the market really thinks of Foles.

If there are any dramatic line adjustments through the week, we’ll make some tweaks. 

College Football “Market Watch”: All’s quiet on the playoff front
We’re in the lull between the excitement of initial betting for the National Semifinals, and the eventual flood of public money that’s going to overwhelm the board New Year’s Weekend. No movement from consensus lines on either the side or the total since we last checked. 

Rose Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Georgia 
Opener: Oklahoma by 3, total of 60
December 5: Oklahoma by 1, total of 60
December 12: Georgia by 1.5, total of 60
Tuesday morning: Georgia by 1.5, total of 60

We might just sit here for another week to 10 days. If the public decides it’s going to bandwagon one of these teams in the final 24-72 hours before kickoff, the line is likely to move at least a bit to encourage counter-action. Given that the public typically prefers “explosive” offensive teams like Oklahoma, and professional wagerers have shown a preference for quality defense and point-of-attack offenses…this could turn into quite a money battle. 

Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Clemson
Opener: Alabama by 1, total of 47
December 5: Alabama by 1.5, total of 47
December 12: Alabama by 2.5, total of 47
Tuesday morning: Alabama by 2.5, total of 47

A few locales are testing Alabama by 3 to see what happens. You can tell sharps who liked Alabama got in early. Those preferring Clemson will wait for a chance to bet plus 3 really big. If the public splits on this one…it wouldn’t be out of the question for a few “head fake” bets from sharps on ‘Bama just enough to nudge the three into play all over Las Vegas…followed by some monster bets on Clemson at the key number. Yes, it’s easy to imagine head fakes that aren’t really there. This, at least, is in the range where something like that might happen in the days before kickoff. 

The only development in the other marquee bowls is an important one. In the Cotton Bowl, Ohio State has blown through the key number of seven and is now -7.5 vs. USC. That line was -6.5 when we started the “Market Watch” two weeks ago. Last week it was 7. Now, a sustained -7.5 without enough dog buy back to bring the number down. Will there be enough “locals” interest from California money to keep that line from rising above eight? 

Here’s a review of our estimated “market” Power Ratings for the marquee matchups…

Estimated “market” Power Ratings for the highest profile bowls
Sugar: Alabama -2.5 vs. Clemson (Alabama 90, Clemson 88)
Rose: Georgia -1.5 vs. Georgia (Oklahoma 87, Georgia 88)
Cotton: Ohio State -7.5 vs. USC (Ohio State 90, USC 83)
Fiesta: Penn State -2.5 vs. Washington (Penn State 86, Washington 84)
Orange: Wisconsin -6.5 vs. Miami (Wisconsin 84, Miami 78)
Peach: Auburn -9.5 vs. Central Florida (Auburn 86, UCF 76)
Citrus: LSU -3 vs. Notre Dame (LSU 81, Notre Dame 78)

Monday College Basketball: Inconsistent Indiana misses the market by 33 points in upset loss, Texas barely survives straight up laying 19
We were going to skip college hoops unless something interesting happened. Then, THESE!

IPFW (plus 13) 92, Indiana 72
Two-Point Pct: IPFW 47% Indiana 55%
Three Pointers: IPFW 17/30, Indiana 4/24
Free Throws: IPFW 13/19, Indiana 12/19
Rebounds: IPFW 31, Indiana 46
Turnovers: IPFW 12, Indiana 18
Kenpom/Sagarin/BPI Rankings: IPFW 160-202-141, Indiana 95-78-82

Those initials are for Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. They’re calling themselves Fort Wayne to make it easier. The Mastodons shot lights out from long range to win going away. You can see the road dog was plus 13 in made treys, which means plus 39 points in a game they only won by 20. Often cross-class shockers in this sport are triggered by extreme results in treys. You can still see who the Big 10 team was in two-point shooting and rebounding. The Hoosiers are now 4-8 against the spread, though they did cover in that overtime upset of Notre Dame a couple of days ago.  

Texas (-19) 47, Tennessee State 46
Two-Point Pct: Tennessee State 41% Texas 50%
Three Pointers: Tennessee State 6/16, Texas 3/21
Free Throws: Tennessee State 6/8, Texas 8/12
Rebounds: Tennessee State 30, Texas 29
Turnovers: Tennessee State 24, Texas 18
Kenpom/Sagarin/BPI Rankings: Tennessee State 202-229-262, Texas 40-33-42

Texas is still missing its leading scorer, and it’s still killing the Longhorns. Only 47 points in a game they were supposed to win by almost 20! More woes from long range. We talked about that back in the Duke game. Nobody on the roster can make them consistently. At some point, the stubbornness has to end. There’s a difference between a “slump” and just flat lacking a skill set. Texas isn’t playing to those computer rankings lately. They’re probably a top 35 team when at full strength. They at least played that way vs. Duke and Gonzaga up in the Portland tournament. 

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See you Wednesday to review key stats from Florida-Atlantic/Akron in the new week’s first bowl. Don’t forget that VSiN City is now seven-days-a-week through the bowls!

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