Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs Atlanta Falcons
Sunday 26th November (6:00pm UK Time)
- Winner: Buccaneers 7/2, Falcons 2/9
If you asked any NFL pundit at the start of this season they would have said the same thing; the Bucs will make the playoffs and the Falcons will be pushing to repeat as NFC champions. Unfortunately, neither team has lived up to that promise, and they both find themselves at a crossroads in the season.
After featuring on Sky Sports’ Hard Knocks in training camp, the Bucs were most people’s hot pick for an outside team to make a run in the playoffs. Before the season even began the team was dealt a blow when their week one match against the Dolphins was rescheduled thanks to Hurricane Irma, meaning the team would have to play 16 games in a row instead of enjoying a week 11 bye.
If you want to make the playoffs, you can’t afford to lose five games in a row, but that is exactly what they did between week five and week nine. Star quarterback Jameis Winston has not featured in the team’s last two matches due to an AC joint sprain and doesn’t look likely to re-join the team this week, meaning an even bigger advantage swings towards the Falcons.
The Falcons started the year in great shape, with quarterback and reigning MVP Matt Ryan distributing the ball amongst the insanely deep receiving core to the tune of a 3-0 start. Suddenly it all went downhill, losing three straight to AFC East opponents and sitting on the outside of the play-offs looking in. Since then, the team is 3-1, including a crunch-time win on Monday Night Football against the Seahawks without their top running back Devonte Freeman. Now at 6-4 on the year, the Falcons will likely have to win at least four more games to make the play-offs, and that needs to start here against their division rivals.
The advantage goes to the Falcons as they are playing at home and scoring an average of 24 points per game. The Bucs’ defence is giving up 32 points per game away from home, so look for the Falcons to go over 24.5 points at 4/11 or 30.5 points at 21/20. The spread on this game is +/- 9.5 points in favour of the Falcons and there is no reason this mark couldn’t even be reached in the first quarter alone.
Sports.net Top Tip
Falcons 13 - 18
New Orleans Saints vs LA Rams
Sunday 26th November (9:30pm UK Time)
- Winner: Saints 5/4, Rams 20/29
For all intents and purposes, it looked like both the Saints and Rams were heading towards another lost year when the season began and pundits started getting their picks together. The Saints had an ageing quarterback, a defence with more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese and a head coach that was staring the job market in the face. The Rams were facing another wasted sophomore quarterback and a bedding-in period for the youngest head coach in NFL history.
And yet here we are with the two teams sitting third and fourth in the conference, atop their divisions at 8-2 and 7-3 respectively. The Saints began the season 0-2 and didn’t know how to operate their extremely strong and deep running back core. Fast forward to today, and eight wins in a row later, the team has traded Adrian Peterson to the Cardinals and built the league’s best 1-2 tandem in Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara. The pair have 413 rushing yards and 127 receiving yards in the last two weeks combined, with six touchdowns. Add in shutdown corner Marshon Lattimore and you are looking at a team that no longer needs to rely on 38-year old Drew Brees to claw them back in games.
The Rams were a joke last year in their first season in LA, yet it was still a surprise to see a young team fill their vacant head coaching role with the inexperienced Sean McVay. The former offensive coordinator has simplified the playbook for sophomore quarterback Jared Goff, with fewer personnel packages and a game plan that leans heavily on star running back Todd Gurley. The result? An offence that is second in the league in scoring (30.3 ppg) after being ranked dead last in 2016. Throw in the addition of legendary defensive coach Wade Phillips, and you have an all-round team that plays ferociously fast, swarming to the ball on every play and sustaining a tempo all game that most teams would be happy to have for one series.
This looks like it should be a close game on paper, but could easily become one-sided when you look at the crucial match-ups. The Rams give up the fifth most rushing yards per game in the league (123.3) whilst the Saints offence runs for the third most (144.0), allowing them to control the tempo of the game. Star lineman Aaron Donald will have to step up to expectations and control the line of scrimmage, otherwise this could become a cakewalk for the Saints. Both teams have the capability to score points, so look for the match total points to go over the threshold of 53.5.
Sports.net Top Tip