The New England Patriots are one of a dwindling list of undefeated teams remaining in the NFL. On Sunday night they will be taking on a team that has lost twice, but only to other undefeated squads, as they visit the Atlanta Falcons in a game that takes place at 8:30 PM ET at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. This contest will be televised by NBC.
The Pats cut it very close in their two wins over the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills, which came by a combined five points. But they took advantage of a dysfunctional Tampa Bay offense last Sunday, holding the Bucs to a field goal in the 23-3 victory.
Atlanta Falcons -2
New England Patriots +2
And this is the total on the game as it is currently posted:
Over 49.5 Points -110
Under 49.5 Points -110
The Patriots have not been “humming” on offense. In fact, Tom Brady has thrown for just 5.5 yards an attempt, which is a reflection of his 57.5% completion percentage. Of course, there are not too many quarterbacks in the NFL who have to start the season without any of their five top receivers from the year before, as Brady has. So it has become improvisation time, even as it pertains to coming up with a way to fill the vacuum left by the absence of Danny Amendola, who himself was trying to fill the Wes Welker role – that of a slot receiver to go on short routes.
Now Brady is doing wonders with Julian Edelman, another mighty mite who leads the team with 27 catches and is tied for the league lead with someone who will be on the other sideline on Sunday, Julio Jones. The other guys are “no-name” types like Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson. The Pats (priced at +800 to win the Super Bowl title at Bet365) have been hoping to welcome back a rather substantial name in tight end Ron Gronkowski, but the likelihood is that he will remain right next to Amendola on the shelf this week.
Atlanta’s Matt Ryan hasn’t had the misfortune of having to go without receivers; in fact, his “Big Three” of Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and Jones are certainly present and accounted for. But Ryan has been showing a definite bias toward Jones, who has those 27 catches, while Gonzalez is next on the Falcons’ list with eleven. Jones has averaged almost fourteen yards a catch, and is the main threat New England will have to worry about. With Steven Jackson out, Atlanta (+275 to win the NFC South in the football futures odds at Bet365) made a point to try to force themselves to develop a running game, and that wasn’t so bad, with Jacquizz Rodgers rolling for 86 yards. That game in Miami did not turn out the way the Falcons would have liked, as they let the Dolphins go down the field for a winning touchdown drive as time was running out, but even at 1-2 it is way too early to push the panic button on this team that went to the NFC title game last year.
The problem Atlanta (the -125 money line favorite in this game) has to address, aside from the injuries that have taken out a few starters, including linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, is that they have not had a lot of success down close. In the red zone they have only scored a touchdown 31% of the time. That might not get a whole lot easier against a New England defense that is better this season that it is being given credit for. This may be Bill Belichick’s best group in a while. The Patriots have permitted opposing quarterbacks to complete just 50.5% of their passes, with an overall rating of 58.7. The other side of that coin, of course, is that they have faced a quarterback in his first NFL start (EJ Manuel), one in his second pro start (Geno Smith) and finally one that was so bad that he has now been pulled form the lineup in favor of a rookie (Josh Freeman).
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