The NFC South figures to be competitive once again and with the emergence of Tampa Bay, winning within the division takes on added importance. After knocking off Carolina last week, the Atlanta Falcons have a shot to take down the defending division champs when the New Orleans Saints come calling in Week 3. This rivalry is one of the most heated in the NFL but was often played in obscurity considering the teams stunk for so long. Now that they are both playoff contenders, the intensity has picked up.
Kickoff for this regular season Week 3 game is set for Sunday, September 23, 2018, at 1 p.m. ET at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
NFL Opening Odds at BookMaker.eu
New Orleans Saints +3
Atlanta Falcons -3
Early action was split evenly after the line dropped from Atlanta -3.5 to -3. The teams have split the last 12 games both SU and ATS with seven of those games cashing the over, so if recent form tells us anything it’s that this one is up for grabs. The total opened at 52.5 and was quickly wagered up to 53.
Tommylee Lewis – A key member of New Orleans’ special teams, Lewis exited last game with a knee injury and didn’t return. Lewis was the top kick returner last season averaging nearly 24 yards a pop and he handled the chores this season. Taysom Hill got a chance in Lewis’ absence and returned one kickoff for 47 yards, but the experience in that area is lacking.
Devonta Freeman – Atlanta’s leading rusher is expected to miss a few weeks with a knee injury, leaving Tevin Coleman to handle most of the load. Coleman was up to the task last week, rushing for 107 yards on 16 carries against Carolina. Ito Smith is the primary backup. This is a new situation for Coleman, who split time with Freeman the last three seasons serving as the change of pace back.
Matchup to Watch
Atlanta used a balanced attack to defeat the Panthers and the output took some heat off coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who was coming under fire for the lack of imagination and creativity that stifled the group. Matt Ryan threw for 272 yards and a pair of touchdowns and the Falcons amassed 170 yards on the ground, including a pair of scoring runs from Ryan, to post a 31-24 victory. It was the Falcons first 30-point game since scoring 34 against Tampa in Week 12 last season.
With Ryan looking like the MVP, the Falcons will attempt to exploit a Saints defense that has regressed to 2016 form. After two games New Orleans ranks 30th in points allowed and 29th in pass defense. The Saints allowed Tyrod Taylor to throw for 246 yards and the Browns amassed 327 total yards, but New Orleans avoided an embarrassing defeat thanks to some poor Cleveland special teams play.
28 – The Saints like to pass the football and Drew Brees has built a great rapport with Michael Thomas. Even when opposing defenses know what’s coming they seem powerless to stop the duo. Playing catch up in the first two games, Thomas has hauled in 28 catches to set a NFL record for the most in the first two games of a season.
Thomas already owned the mark for most receptions in the first two years of his career with 196. He had a team record 16 grabs in the opener and followed that with 12 against the Browns. He’s also becoming a favorite weapon in the red zone with a pair of scoring grabs last week.
Free ATS Pick
Two teams with an abundance of offensive talent screams taking the over. But the clubs played under the total twice last season with a number not as high as the opening total for this one. Considered the favorite to win the division, the Saints have struggled out of the gate and avoided a loss last week. They haven’t had a lot of success in Atlanta recently losing the last two games and three of the past four.
I do think New Orleans will pick up the pace defensively and Brees will continue to play catch with Thomas. The absence of Freeman will catch up with Atlanta in this one and the Saints will get a critical road win in what will be a close game. While it’s tempting to go with the over, the defenses will rise to the challenge and the under is a smart play on a total that is just too high.
NFL Betting Odds: Saints 27, Falcons 24
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