The New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons headline tonight's Thursday Night Football. We have followed this game from it's opening point, and now that the lines have settled, where are we placing our NFL picks?


It’s Geaux Time for the New Orleans Saints. They need a win this Thursday against the Atlanta Falcons if they’re going to make a serious run at a Wild Card spot. And their future looks dim according to the NFL odds.

Imagine how great this matchup would have been if the Saints had won last week. It still looks like a rare must-see game for Thursday Night Football, given the rivalry between these two clubs, but some of the air was let out when New Orleans lost 31-21 to the San Francisco 49ers as a 1-point home dog. That leaves the Saints 5-6 (6-5 ATS) on the season and with just a 4.8 percent chance of making the playoffs according to Mike Harris’ calculations. 

Atlanta, on the other hand, is a virtual lock at 10-1 (6-4-1 ATS), four games ahead of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC South with five games to play. Can the Falcons stay motivated this week as 3.5-point home faves on the NFL lines?

Last Chance to Dance 

Drew BreesThe betting public says otherwise. The Saints are getting nearly 58 percent support according to our expanded beta consensus report, with nearly 62 percent of the action. But of course they are. New Orleans remains one of the most beloved teams in the nation, and a highly profitable one of late at 6-2 ATS in its last eight games. 

It’s been that kind of year in the Big Easy. The Saints were easy fade candidates early in the season with the Bountygate scandal and the turnover in personnel on defense. They were also easy follow candidates once the suspensions started lifting and the players and coaches started rejoining the team. One lucky bounce here and there, and the Saints could easily be 7-4 right now. 

Atlatl

But they’re not. The updated efficiency stats through Week 12 have New Orleans playing well enough to earn 5.3 Estimated Wins. That’s not far behind the Falcons, though. Because they’ve played the No. 30-ranked strength of schedule in the league (ahead of only Pittsburgh and Miami), Atlanta’s 10 victories only translate to 5.8 Estimated Wins. Overrated~!

Be that as it may, the Falcons have been playing better football than the Saints this season. And motivation really shouldn’t be a problem this Thursday (8:20 p.m. ET, NFLN). Atlanta is fighting for valuable playoff seeding, and would love some revenge in front of the home fans after losing 31-27 to the Saints (+1) in Week 10 at the Superdome. That’s four straight SU and ATS losses for Atlanta in this rivalry.

Be sure to check out my NFL Picks on the Total for tonight's games.

Spoonman 

Revenge will be easier to come by now that LB Sean Weatherspoon (58 tackles, three sacks) is back in the lineup. He missed three games with an ankle injury including the Saints game before returning in last week’s 24-23 nailbiter over Tampa Bay (+1 at home). Atlanta was 1-2 ATS in Weatherspoon’s absence. 

On the other hand, CB Asante Samuel (13 passes defended, two INTs, one TD) is questionable after re-injuring his shoulder against the Buccaneers. Samuel has been a pleasant surprise as a veteran offseason pick-up who appeared to be running out of gas at age 31. If he sits, New Orleans could take advantage. Wideouts Marques Colston and Lance Moore will both be in the starting lineup despite needing in-game concussion tests last week.

My original pick was Atlanta, and I’m not budging. The Saints offensive line is in trouble with RT Bryce Harris (broken leg) going on injured reserve and Zach Strief only practicing on a limited basis Tuesday. Sean Weatherspoon must feed.

NFL Picks: Take Atlanta –3.5 (–102) at Matchbook