We’re back on the horse for Week 10 of the NFL season, and what a week it is shaping up to be with contests that have playoff implications littering the board. This week let’s chat about two teams on opposite ends of the spectrum. One franchise has won and covered three of four and is cruising on offense. The other has dropped four of five and finds itself in the unfamiliar role of home underdog.
Falcons Finding Their Way Offensively
NFL seasons are long with plenty of opportunities to improve, and that is exactly what Arthur Smith and the Falcons have done. Since their Week 4 loss to Washington, Atlanta has averaged 25.4 points per game and 5.7 yards per play. The red zone, a thorn in the paw of Matt Ryan for a long time, has been a friendly place in which Atlanta has scored a touchdown on 63.2 percent of their possessions (12 of 19). The Falcons are averaging 2.44 points and 34.6 yards per possession, marks that would place them among the best in the league should they average that for the season. At the center of this success is Ryan, who has put together some great work over this five-game stretch.
Over the last six weeks, Ryan is the highest-graded passer by PFF standards (91.7). He has committed just four turnover-worthy plays on 197 drop-backs (1.9 TWP percent) while throwing 11 touchdown passes on an average depth of target 9.4 yards downfield. His 14 big-time throws, a PFF stat defined as a pass with excellent ball location and timing generally thrown farther down the field or into a tighter window, is tied for the league lead over this span. Ryan has been fantastic, and part of the reason is his willingness to target his best weapons. For example, in the first three weeks, Kyle Pitts averaged 5.0 targets per game, but over the last five games that is up to 8.0. Atlanta might not be a Super Bowl contender, but this change in philosophy has put the Falcons in control of the seventh seed in the NFC.
Having said all that, one could argue that this surge in offense is due to a stretch of lesser opponents, which is perfectly fair. Of the Falcons’ five opponents during this run, three — Miami, the New York Jets and Washington — rank 26th or lower in defensive DVOA, and Ryan’s worst game over this stretch came against Carolina, which is eighth. However, he picked apart New Orleans’ third-ranked defense for 343 yards and 11.4 yards per attempt on an average depth of target 10.3 yards downfield. This week he gets a Dallas defense that is 21st overall and 15th in coverage grade by PFF standards. In a controlled environment indoors, bettors should expect this trend to continue for the Falcons.
The Curious Case Of San Francisco
My respect for analytics in sports betting is profound. I believe that analyzing these games with a heavy influence from numbers will always optimize your ability to come out on top. However, analytics sometimes paint a picture that just refuses to come together, and that is the case with the San Francisco 49ers.
How in the world can a team that is 3-5 SU and 2-6 ATS with a -17 point differential and 0-4 SU record at home be one of the best teams in the league? The answer is it cannot, but so many numbers and so much analysis tell us San Francisco is indeed one of the best in the NFL. Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric ranks the 49ers as the ninth-best team in overall DVOA, and PFF grades them as the 10th-best team in the league, tied with Tennessee in overall grade (81.3). Before you rail on analytics, even the betting market was telling us the same thing before this week! In Chicago the betting market closed San Francisco -4.5, a point lower than what Green Bay laid at Soldier Field earlier in the season. They were laying 3.5 at home to the Colts, a half-point less than what Tennessee laid in a home game against them in Week 3. It’s clear that the 49ers have been overvalued by the betting market, but we finally have a massive adjustment this weekend.
After a home loss to the Arizona Cardinals, which was without three starters on offense, including Kyler Murray, it seems the market has had enough. San Francisco opened + 3 on Sunday and as of Tuesday is up + 4 at almost every shop. A team that has closed as a favorite in every home game this season, laying an average of 3.6 points against the Packers, Seahawks, Colts and Cardinals, is now a massive underdog in the same venue. Are the Rams a full touchdown better than the Packers, who were + 3 in Santa Clara at the end of September? Of course not, but that is an example of how much the market rating has swung on the 49ers. Now bettors must consider whether this is the spot to buy low on a team that has consistently disappointed. It might be, considering Los Angeles has been overvalued with a 4-5 ATS record and failed covers in each of its last three games.