Tailgate Confidential: Atlanta Falcons and Denver Broncos Heat Up Division Races

I said a pick hop the pickie the pickie  to the pick pick hop, a you dont stop…
Game of the Week

New Orleans Saints  @  Atlanta Falcons

This game pits the top two teams in the NFC South, and possibly the two teams that will be fighting Green Bay for overall NFC  supremacy.  The game is even in Vegas and on the field.  For every weapon Drew Brees can throw at the Falcons improving defense, Matt Ryan can heave one right back.

There isn’t much to say about New Orleans that isn’t common knowledge.  They’re fantastic offensively, there’s no hidden gem statistic to unearth that will raise their value in anyone’s eyes.  The Saints lead the league in scoring, yards, plays, and first downs.  With Mark Ingram and Darren Sproles splitting time in the backfield, the recently shaky running game isn’t even a weakness.  The backfield committee is 6th in league in rushing with nine touchdowns and only four fumbles on the season.  If there was a post season “Best Personell Move Award”, it would go to New Orleans for turning Reggie Bush into Darren Sproles during the off season.  Sproles gives New Orleans a true wild card weapon.  No one ever knows how he’s going to get the ball, but he always does.

On Atlanta’s side of the ball, the statistics might not look as impressive, but that’s largely due to a slow start to 2011.  Atlanta is scoring 13 points per game in their three losses, but 30 points per game in their five wins.  This team isn’t quite 30 per game good, but the Falcons that are going to finish out the season are going to pound the ball and score a lot of points.

Defense is really what’s going to decide this game, though.  Not the kind of hard-nose, stingy defense that the Ravens or Steelers play, but the soft, bend and then break defense that the Saints play.  The Saints are 27th in the league in points allowed, but only ninth in yards allowed.  That’s an indicator of bad kick coverage, and the Saints keep us on the right track by allowing 27 yards per return.   That’s good for sixth worst in league.  There’s also only three teams in the NFL that have had more defensive plays than the Saints.  A matchup against a team with  a power running back like Michael Turner and a strong mid-range passing game is New Orleans’ kryptonite.

Atlanta Falcons 31  –  New Orleans Saints 21

Upset of the Week

The Denver Broncos will beat the Kansas City Chiefs

That’s right, I said it.  Tim Tebow will lead the Broncos into a tie for second place in the AFC West after they’re victorious over the Chiefs an the Chargers beat the Raiders

John Fox finally realized that Tebow wasn’t going to go away and started running an offense close to the read option that Tebow was successful with at Florida.  Denver is 2-1 with Tebow under center – er, in the shotgun – and running back Willis McGahee is averaging 5.1 yards per carry in the league’s 5th ranked rushing offense.  It’s no secret that Tebow has his share of weaknesses at the quarterback position, but the Broncos put up 38 points on an Oakland Raider defense that’s better than the Kansas City D they’re going to face Sunday.

On the Chief’s side, it seems like this team has been pretty bad all season.  An overtime win over San Diego and a blowout against a Raider team that has since been exposed as a sub par team are the only things that stand between them and a 2-6 record.  The Chiefs best days were the four game winning streak that ended with last week’s loss to the Dolphins (THE DOLPHINS!) and their worst days are ahead of them in what could be a nine game skid to end the season.  Sorry, Kansas City, but this season is going to get ugly.

Denver 17  –  Kansas City 10


Raiders +7Chargers Chargers Chargers As much grief as I gave Philip Rivers for fumbling that snap two weeks ago, the three San Diego losses in a row don’t worry me as much as Oakland’s recent struggles. The Chargers lost by one score to a desperate Jets team, were a fumble away from victory against KC, and put up 38 points in a close game against the Superbowl favorite Packers. On the other side of the ball, the Raiders have looked out of sorts since Jason Campbell went down. I was in favor of the Carson Palmer move, and at the time I still believe they had to swing for the fences, but 6 interceptions in 2 games isn’t what the Raiders were looking for.
Cardinals +14 Eagles Eagles Eagles After Philadephia’s defense collapse in the fourth quarter last week against the Giants, I was chomping at the bit to pick against the Eagles this week. Alas, the Cardinals are horrible.  Philadelphia is 3-0 against sub .500 teams and Arizona fits solidly into that category. Arizona’s walk off punt return touchdown in overtime will be in the top ten most exciting plays in the NFL this season, but all it really accomplished is giving that team false confidence.  The Cardinals were lucky to beat a one win and two win team by one score each. Even Philly’s suspect pass defense will hold the Cardinals down.
Titans +3 Panthers Panthers Panthers This is a matchup between two teams that aren’t going to be anywhere in the conversation as the season winds down. Tennessee’s offense is sputtering without RB Chris Johnson (Wait. Chris Johnson has been playing?).  Matt Hasselbeck has actually been playing well, but Tennessee’s defense isn’t going to be good enough to stop the future rookie of the year Cam Newton and the Panthers.
Texans -3 Buccaneers Texans TexansI tried for about 30 minutes to make an argument for Tampa Bay upsetting road favorite Houston based on LeGarrette Blount’s tough running at home and the Texans letting down after pasting the Browns last week. I couldn’t make it work. Houston has always had a good offense – and Andre Johnson likely being back this week boosts them up even more – but the big difference is their top five defense. Houston is only allowing 74 yards and 17 points per game. That’s not a defense that Josh Freeman and the Bucs can compete with, even with LeGarrette Blount back at home.
Redskins +4 DolphinsRedskinsRedskinsI just don’t have it in me to trust a 1-7 favorite. Reggie Bush has run better in the last two games than we’ve ever seen from him, and he’s STILL not averaging 100 yards per game in that stretch. (Close, but I’m too busy hating to admit that) Washington is a mess on offense, but their improved defense has the Redskins in prime position to end their current 4 game losing streak.  This is one of three games that end 3-0. Lots of fan bases are going to be taking nice Sunday naps.
Jaguars -3 ColtsJaguarsJaguarsJacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew is the NFL’s 7th leading rusher facing the league worst Indianapolis rushing defense.  Couple that fact with Jacksonville’s surprising top ten defense against a Colts offense that’s averaging 14 points per game and you’ve got Indy locking up the Andrew Luck sweepstakes with almost half of the season to go. I’ve seen some really bad teams in my life, but this Colts team is so remarkably different without Peyton Manning that it’s hard to describe. Oh, and Dallas Clark will be out. Because that would have mattered.
Broncos +3 Chiefs BroncosBroncosIf Denver wins the AFC West, I will Tebow somewhere a reader tells me to, with pictures to prove it.
Bills +5.5 Cowboys Cowboys CowboysA quick comparison between recent sweetheart Ryan Fitzpatrick (65% 1930 yards 15 TDs 9 INTs) and often maligned Tony Romo (62% 2238 yards 13 TDs 7 INTs) reveals that the biggest indicator of a QB’s effectiveness is often the perception of media and fans. DeMarco Murray is more explosive than Fred Jackson and it’s impossible not to favor Jason Witten and Dez Bryant over Stevie Johnson. Dallas winning a good game by a touchdown isn’t an indicator that Buffalo isn’t a good team, it just means that Cowboys are a TD better. Especially at home, where Tony Romo gets booed less than he does anywhere else.
Saints Even Falcons FalconsFalconsI picked Atlanta to win the NFC South before the season.  This is the game that proves me right.
Rams +2.5 Browns Browns BrownsWhy? Four wins combined, and if you add up both teams total points, the total would only be good for 7th in the NFL.  Stephen Jackson has been on fire the last two games and St. Louis still hasn’t been able to score a touchdown. I’ll be looking for a happy hour to get away from this game.
Steelers -3 Bengals Steelers SteelersPicking Cincinnati to upset Pittsburgh is getting a lot of play this week, but I’m not buying it. The Bengals are a good team, but they’re partially schedule darlings. The six teams Cincinnati has beaten are a combined 16-33. The Bengals have done a good job beating the teams on the schedule, but they haven’t had a taste of the Steelers or Ravens yet. More specifically, rookie QB Andy Dalton hasn’t seen defenses that are out for blood yet. I’ve had to begrudgingly give Cincinnati credit for putting together a good season so far, but a hungry Steelers team is going to be more than the Bengals can handle. Also, in the wake of a $40k fine, Ryan Clark may actually try to decapitate A.J. Green.
Ravens-7 Seahawks Ravens RavensI can’t figure out why this spread is only seven. Is there anyone who thinks that one of the worst offenses in the league, led by one of the worst QBs I’ve ever seen start multiple games is going to be able to score on top ranked defense? Baltimore could have a Browns-esque four field goal game and still cover this spread.  Not that they will. The only drama in this game will be whether Ray Rice can top 150 all purpose yards and two touchdowns. You know, in case you have him on your fantasy team.
Giants +3.5 49ers 49ers 49ersThese teams both score about 25 points per game, but I’ll be surprised if either get there this week. The Giants pass rush leads the league with 28 sacks with a whopping 215 yards lost due to sacks. That would be a lot scarier for Alex Smith if the 49ers were a pass first offense. Likely, Frank Gore and his 5 yards per carry is going to run right through the Giants and their eight worst run defense. Speaking of run defenses, San Francisco leads the league allowing only 70 yards per game. That’s almost as much as Chris Johnson has run for this season.
Lions +3 Bears Lions LionsIn a game that showcases opposite offenses, it’ll be Detroit’s defensive line that keeps this game going in their favor. Matt Forte is the run away leader for best RB so far this season, but eventually Chicago is going to need Jay Cutler to make some plays. The big play Lions offense won’t let Chicago burn clock with the running game, and once Ndamakong Suh and Kyle Vanden Bosch can pin their ears back rush the QB it’ll be all over for Cutler and the Bears.
Patriots +1 Jets PatriotsPatriotsThe Patriots offense is sputtering and the Jets have apparently been talking to Cincinnati about making me look stupid for talking bad about teams that I think are over-rated. This is a must win game for both coaches, and a must win stud-off for the QBs.  Honestly, the Jets are 4-0 at home this year and could make us all look pretty dumb by taking control of the AFC East with six games to play. I just don’t think the New England magic is gone. It probably will be gone this season, but not this week.
Vikings +13.5 Packers Packers VikingsI’m not shying away from my opinions of Green Bay’s dominance, but I’m buying into Christian Ponder and his steady improvement. His only two interceptions since taking over the job were to Charles Woodson, and Ponder acknowledged that he knew what he did wrong after that game. In the Vikings win against Carolina, Ponder completed 62% of his passes and threw a TD pass on his way to a 102 QB Rating. Those aren’t exactly indicative of a superstar QB, but between his awareness and Adrian Peterson being a monster, I think Green Bay only wins by 10. That might not mean much to Minnesota on Sunday, but in the long run, having a rookie QB cut his teeth successfully against a champion is a great scenario.

Have NFL questions?

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