Saints at Falcons

Published on Nov. 28, 2012, at 4:36 p.m. Eastern.

By Brian Edwards

The Atlanta Falcons have enjoyed unprecedented success since owner Arthur Blank made a pair of surprising hires, plucking New England’s Director of College Scouting Thomas Dimitroff to be a General Manager for the first time and choosing Jacksonville defensive coordinator Mike Smith for his first head-coaching gig.

Before 2008, the Falcons had never enjoyed back-to-back winning seasons. On Smith’s watch, they have posted four consecutive winning seasons and are in the midst of a fifth straight. Smith has compiled a 53-22 straight-up record during the regular season.

However, a 0-3 record in the playoffs has stained an otherwise stellar run. Also, Atlanta has struggled to deal with its arch rival, New Orleans, which has won four in a row and seven of the last eight head-to-head meetings.

When these bitter NFC South rivals collide Thursday night at the Ga. Dome, Atlanta (10-1 straight up, 6-4-1 against the spread) will be looking to avenge its lone loss of the season, a 31-27 defeat to the Saints at the Superdome on Nov. 11. The Falcons were stymied on the goal line at crunch time in the loss as one-point road favorites.

This time around, most betting shops have installed Atlanta as a 3 ½-point favorite with a total of 56. Gamblers can take New Orleans (5-6 SU, 6-5 ATS) on the money line for a plus-165 payout (risk $100 to win $165).

Atlanta survived a division road test last week, capturing a 24-23 win at Tampa Bay as a one-point road ‘chalk.’ Michael Turner scored the game-winning touchdown on a three-yard scamper on a quick pitch to the left with 7:55 remaining.

Matt Ryan shook off a five-interception debacle the previous week to complete 26-of-32 throws for 353 yards with one TD and one interception. The Boston College product hit Julio Jones with an 80-yard scoring strike in the third quarter. Jones finished with six receptions for 147 yards.

For the season, Ryan has connected on 68.5 percent of his passes for 3,425 yards with a 21/13 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Jones has made 53 catches for 853 yards and six TDs, while Roddy White has 67 receptions for 1,003 yards and four TDs. Tony Gonzalez has 69 catches for 712 yards and six TDs.

Despite those gaudy numbers, Atlanta needs to start running the ball more effectively if it wants to be successful in January. Turner has averaged only 3.5 yards per carry to date.

New Orleans lost its first four games, only to respond with five wins in its next six games going into last week’s home contests versus San Francisco. The 49ers cooled off the Saints by intercepting Drew Brees twice and returning those picks for touchdowns. They captured a 31-21 victory as one-point road ‘chalk.’

Brees threw for 267 yards and three TDs, but the pick-six’s proved costly. The Purdue product has thrown for 3,333 yards with a 33/11 TD-INT ratio.

The Saints’ woes have been tied to their leaky defense, a unit ranked 28th in the NFL in scoring defense. They give up 27.6 points per game. They are last in rush defense, surrendering 156.5 yards per game on the ground.

New Orleans WR Marques Colston and TE Jimmy Graham have both caught a team-high 55 receptions. Also, both have eight TD grabs apiece.

Atlanta is unbeaten in five home games this season, but it just 2-3 ATS at the Ga. Dome. During Smith’s five-year tenure, the Falcons have compiled a 19-10-1 ATS mark as home favorites.

New Orleans is 2-3 SU and 3-2 ATS in five road assignments this year.

The ‘under’ is 7-4 overall for the Falcons, 4-1 in their home games. Meanwhile, the Saints have seen the ‘over’ go 7-4 overall, 3-2 in their five road assignments. The ‘over’ is 7-3 in the last 10 head-to-head meetings between these clubs.

Kickoff is scheduled for 8:20 p.m. Eastern on The NFL Network.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

–Former Falcon Curtis Lofton, who signed with the Saints in the offseason, says New Orleans doesn’t even really look at Atlanta as a big rival.

–Philadelphia has the NFL’s worst spread record, limping to an atrocious 1-9-1 spread record.

–Tampa Bay owns the NFL’s best spread ledger with an 8-2-1 ATS mark.

–The ‘over’ has hit in nine consecutive New England games. The Patriots have a total of 51 in Sunday’s game at Miami.

–There are six home underdogs on the Week 13 card: Rams (+7 vs. 49ers), Dolphins (+7.5 vs. New England), Chiefs (+3 vs. Panthers), Chargers (+2 vs. Bengals), Titans (+6 vs. Titans) and Redskins (+2.5 vs. Giants on Monday Night Football).

–The ‘under’ is an NFL-best 8-3 for both the Cardinals and Giants.

–The ‘over’ has cashed in seven straight head-to-head meetings between Seattle and Chicago. The Bears-Seahawks’ total for Sunday is 37 ½ at Solider Field.

–After missing back-to-back games, Percy Harvin was upgraded to ‘probable’ on Wednesday for Sunday’s showdown at Green Bay. The Vikings are nine-point underdogs.

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