SharpClarke's Best Week 18 NFL Bet: ATL @ NO

Jan 05, 2024
SharpClarke's Best Week 18 NFL Bet: ATL @ NO

In this week's matchup spotlight, I'm heading to the Big Easy to break down a game between the Falcons and Saints that could have massive playoff implications (or else could not matter at all). But either way, both teams will be putting forth their maximum effort, which is not true of every game on the slate. Instead of talking about motivational angles, I'll do what I normally do and break down a side I like based on the team quality and matchups. Let's dive in.

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Matchup Breakdown

NO offense v. ATL defense

This Saints offense, led by the perenially-underrated Derek Carr, has graded okay by my metrics this season. And I know, so many of you reading this felt your stomach churn when I said Carr was underrated, but that's exactly what makes him underrated. Nobody believes in him at this point. But when I break down offensive performance, I try to adjust for game script, situation, quality of opponent, and injuries. So much of the Saints' struggles this season have come when they have been banged up in one crucial way or another. Against Green Bay, Carr was injured in-game (after which they blew a 17-point lead). He probably was not fully recovered the following week against Tampa Bay, another loss. Against Houston and Jacksonville, two more losses; they were battered on the offensive line, missing three starters in-game against Jacksonville, who didn't play against Houston. Carr also went out around halftime of the Minnesota game (although he wasn't good to begin with in that one). Another loss. The following game, Carr returned but played without Chris Olave, Rashid Shaheed, and Michael Thomas (who obviously has missed every game since then). They've also missed Olave, Shaheed, Alvin Kamara, and Taysom Hill in spots.

They are now finally healthy (pending Alvin Kamara's status), heading into this game against a mediocre Falcons defense that has faced, by my metrics, the easiest schedule of opposing offenses in the NFL this year (and probably for several years before that). They have missed Grady Jarrett since he went on IR in Week 9, and have basically played to the level of their competition this season. Good offenses have generally been able to move the ball against them, just as the Saints did the last time these two teams played. In that one, the Saints earned 22 first downs on 6.6 yards per play, but finished 0 for 5 in the red zone in a disappointing loss. As noted above, they were without Olave and Shaheed. The Saints have been around league average in the red zone this year (and better when everyone has been healthy), so I expect some positive regression there. In the dome, with everyone (likely) healthy, playing behind their home crowd, I like the Saints' offense to handle their business here.

ATL offense v. NO defense

Of course, the Falcons are not the only team with a defense inflated by schedule. The Saints have played the second-easiest schedule of opposing offenses by my metrics, so they've benefitted as well. The Falcons may start Desmond Ridder, and they may start Taylor Heinicke. At this point, it doesn't matter to me. Ridder is slightly better at creating opportunities downfield and navigating the pocket, but struggles with accuracy and decision-making. Heinicke is more accurate but can tend to bail pockets and make mistakes due to a lack of arm strength. Either way, the Falcons have been at their best when they can hide the quarterback and run the ball successfully. The Saints have allowed the 6th-lowest success rate to opposing running backs and have been great at punishing mistake-prone quarterbacks this season.

Last year, when the Falcons played the Saints, I was impressed with the diversity of their rushing attack and how they caught the Saints' aggressive defensive line off-balance. But this year, their run game seems to have stagnated, perhaps because neither quarterback can operate the offense like Marcus Mariota could (what a sentence). Or perhaps Arthur Smith has run out of tricks. Whatever it is, the "positionless football" we were promised has simply not panned out. This is an offense that has been searching for answers all year, and I do not expect them to find those answers here, on the road, in a hostile environment against a decent defense. And if they are playing from behind, I don't love their chances at pouring on points in a comeback effort. If they can keep it tight, they should be able to stay in the game with a decent offensive showing. But in crunch time, give me Carr and his experience over whoever is playing quarterback for the Falcons.

Market Evaluation

This line opened much higher, around NO -4.5. I thought that was fair based on my simulations, so I initially passed the spread on this game. But money on the Falcons has brought the spread down to NO -3, where I show value on the home team. There has been some resistance at NO -3, and I am part of that resistance. I am comfortable fading the money that came in on the Falcons, even though it is money worth respecting because they bet on the Falcons at higher numbers. If this bounces back to NO -3.5, I would no longer like the spread (but I would feel good about getting NO -3). Ultimately, I am not seeing any real red flags in the market.

Best Bet

I'm going to buy the dip on the Saints against the spread and take NO -3 -110. Go Saints!

NO -3 (-110) (FanDuel, Caesars, Bookmaker, Circa, BetMGM, Bet365, etc.)

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