A pair of NFC bottom feeders will face off in Week 15 as the Atlanta Falcons host the Arizona Cardinals. Game time is set for 1:00 EST on Sunday, December 16, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Fans in local markets can watch the game on Fox.
Oddsmakers list the Falcons as 9-point favorites at home. The over/under is set at 44 points. Click here to check out a full list of this week’s NFL betting odds.
By this point, it’s clear that the Falcons are the most disappointing team in the NFL this season. Injuries have played a role in their demise, but both sides of the ball have failed miserably to meet expectations. Even the once-potent offense has scored 20 or fewer points in their last five games to coincide with the team’s five-game losing streak. Those five losses have taken the Falcons to 4-9 on the season, a record that would have seemed impossible at the start of the season.
During last week’s loss to the Packers, the Falcons started to bench some of their veterans in favor of younger players. It’s clear that the team is already looking ahead to the future, so they may not put their best foot forward the rest of the season. However, this will be Atlanta’s final home game of the season, and they certainly don’t want to send their fans off with a loss to finish the home part of their schedule.
The Cardinals, on the other hand, have been in rebuilding mode nearly all season. After starting the season 0-4 and making the switch to rookie Josh Rosen at quarterback, Arizona has been trying to build for the future under first-year coach Steve Wilks. There have been a few bright moments along the way, including a win at Green Bay a couple of weeks ago. However, progress continues to be difficult to come by following a 17-3 home loss to Detroit last week to move them to 3-10 on the season.
With the Cardinals set to play the Rams and Seahawks the final two weeks of the season, this could be Arizona’s last chance to win a game in 2018. Of course, they are currently in a three-way tie for the worst record in football, so not winning another game can only improve their draft standing.
This line has jumped over a point in Atlanta’s favor since the betting lines first came out, which is confusing to me. The Falcons are surely more talented, but eating nine points for a team that hasn’t won a game or scored more than 20 in over a month is too much for me to abide. The Cardinals have played well at times against other bad teams, so I like their chances to beat the spread in this game.
This game, in many ways, will be about one team’s weakness against the other team’s weakness. For instance, if the Falcons want to score more than 20 points, they’ll need more from a rushing attack that’s averaging just 3.9 yards per carry this season. The good news is that the Cardinals are one of the worst teams in the league at stopping the run. But I’m not sure if that’ll be enough for the Falcons to do much on the ground. In 14 carries before his injury, Devonta Freeman had two runs of 20 yards or more. Meanwhile, Tevin Coleman has just three all season in 138 carries. That’s how inept Atlanta’s running game has been this year.
To be fair, the tandem of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones remains quite potent. Jones has over 100 yards receiving in seven of his last eight games, so he’s a threat to go off against Arizona’s defense. However, the Cardinals have been surprisingly decent against the pass. They are seventh in the NFL in sacks, largely thanks to 12.5 from Chandler Jones. They will also be facing a porous Atlanta offensive line that may be looking to get some younger players some reps this week. Arizona’s pass rush could end up keeping the Atlanta offense under wraps.
On the other side of the ball, the Atlanta defense hasn’t provided much support this season. The Falcons are giving up 28 points per game. Even against a lackluster Arizona offense, the Falcons are likely to give up some points. Even if they give up a touchdown or two, it’ll be difficult for the Falcons to cover a 9-point spread.
Obviously, the Cardinals are lacking playmakers outside of David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. Rosen has also struggled and shines only for brief and sporadic moments throughout a game. But the Atlanta defense is conceding five yards per carry on the ground, so I wouldn’t rule out Johnson having one of his better games of the season. No matter how bad they are, the Cardinals aren’t going to abandon the run and stop giving the ball to Johnson. In this game, it could be only a matter of time until he breaks off a few big runs against the Atlanta defense.
Ultimately, I have no faith in the Falcons to cover such a big spread. They are averaging less than 18 points per game during their losing streak and insist on hurting themselves with penalties and relative carelessness. They don’t look like a team that can beat anybody by 10 points. I’ll take my chances with the Cardinals beating the spread, even if the Falcons do just enough to win.