Not long ago, the Atlanta Falcons were close to reaching the Super Bowl. Now, coach Mike Smith is overseeing a team that is a super-sized disappointment.
Atlanta, 2-4 straight up and against the spread, has been dealing with a rash of key injuries that hindered quarterback Matt Ryan and weakened the defense. The Falcons aim to begin their turnaround as 2½-point underdogs at Arizona today.
Pregame.com handicapper Chuck Edel is looking the other way and siding with the Cardinals, who are off losses to Seattle and San Francisco but defeated Carolina 22-6 at home on Oct. 6.
“I have a feeling the Cardinals will put it all together here, and they have played well at home,” Edel said. “I’ve faced a lot of resistance when I’ve talked about Arizona this week. But I’m down on the Falcons defense. The Jets went up and down the field on them.”
The Atlanta defense, which has allowed an average of 26.8 points in the past five games against mostly pedestrian offenses, ranks 26th in the NFL in yards per play (5.8) and sacks (14).
The Cardinals’ Carson Palmer, who has been sacked 20 times, is playing to his reputation as a fading veteran quarterback. Palmer has eight touchdown passes and 13 interceptions.
“Palmer has a knack for turnovers, but if a defense doesn’t put pressure on him, he can make the passes,” Edel said. “Atlanta has not been putting much pressure on the quarterback, so this might be the type of game where Palmer can play well.”
For the second straight week, Ryan will miss wide receiver Roddy White, who’s out with ankle and hamstring injuries. Running back Steven Jackson, who has not played since Week 2 with a hamstring injury, plans to return.
“Jackson is going to be rusty without playing in five weeks,” Edel said. “Arizona has picked it up on defense.”
The schedule is downsized this week with Baltimore, Chicago, Houston, Indianapolis, San Diego and Tennessee getting byes.
Edel (ChuckEdel.com) analyzes the rest of today’s Week 8 lineup:
■ San Francisco (-15½) vs. Jacksonville (at London): The Jaguars are throwing the ball a lot. Chad Henne had 42 pass attempts against Denver two weeks ago, and he threw 36 times for 318 yards against San Diego last week. The 49ers averaged 33 points in their past four games, and quarterback Colin Kaepernick is running the ball more, which is a good sign. I’m leaning over the total of 40½, but watch the weather because there is a chance of rain.
■ Dallas at Detroit (-3): I like what Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford could do against a banged-up Dallas defense. Tony Romo has not played well the past two weeks, although the Cowboys did beat Philadelphia and Washington. Both teams rank near the bottom of the league in pass defense. I lean to Detroit. With Stafford throwing the ball, Detroit’s offense will play pretty fast, especially if running back Reggie Bush returns.
■ New York Giants at Philadelphia (-5½): I’m still not sold on the Giants, who look horrible on defense and allow 30.9 points per game, 31st in the league ahead of only Jacksonville. New York has a bunch of injuries on defense and on the offensive line. As long as quarterback Michael Vick is healthy, the Philadelphia offense is tougher to defend. I’m going against what looks like sharp money on the Giants.
■ Cleveland at Kansas City (-7½): The Browns are solid defensively, allowing 4.5 yards per play, tied with Seattle for No. 1 in the league. The Chiefs put a lot of pressure on the quarterback, and Cleveland will have a semi-conservative game plan with Jason Campbell getting his first start. Kansas City is 6-1 under the total this season and 21 of its past 26 home games went under. The Chiefs don’t get many big plays out of their offense. I lean under the total of 39½.
■ Buffalo at New Orleans (-11): Tight end Jimmy Graham is questionable with a foot injury, and he’s a huge part of the Saints offense. Without him, they are not as explosive. After a great start, the New Orleans defense has regressed and is allowing 5.6 yards per play to rank in the bottom half of the league. The Bills won at Miami and lost to Cincinnati in overtime with Thad Lewis at quarterback. The number looks a little too high, so I’m on Buffalo.
■ Miami at New England (-6½): The Patriots are going to be a big public play. Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been sacked a league-high 26 times and has a sore right shoulder. He has seven turnovers during Miami’s three-game losing streak. But New England has lost two of its past three. I have no real opinion, but the contrarian play will be the Dolphins.
■ New York Jets at Cincinnati (-6): I think the Jets are getting a drop too much respect. Rookie quarterback Geno Smith struggled against Pittsburgh and Tennessee, defenses that pressure the quarterback. Andy Dalton is playing better, is off a nice win at Detroit, and the Bengals will put up some points. I’m not playing the game but will lean to Cincinnati.
■ Pittsburgh (-2½) at Oakland: In the Raiders’ last game before the bye, Terrelle Pryor threw three interceptions and was sacked 10 times in a loss at Kansas City. The Pittsburgh defense has picked up since the bye with strong showings against the Jets and Ravens. The Steelers can pressure the quarterback. I lean under the total of 40½ and to Pittsburgh.
■ Washington at Denver (-11½): It will be interesting to see if the Redskins use the same defensive game plan that Indianapolis used to pressure Peyton Manning. But Washington does not get to the quarterback a lot and is short-handed in the secondary with injuries and with safety Brandon Meriweather suspended. Robert Griffin III started to look more mobile against Dallas two weeks ago, and he passed for 298 yards and ran for 84 in the Redskins’ win over Chicago last week. Both defenses rank near the bottom in yards per play. If anything, l lean over the total of 59.
■ Green Bay (-9) at Minnesota: The Packers are without tight end Jermichael Finley and wide receiver Randall Cobb, and James Jones is doubtful, so their offense is going to be easier to defend. I think most people are putting too much emphasis on the Vikings’ loss to the Giants. Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier made a big mistake by leaving quarterback Josh Freeman out there in the second half, and they would have been better off with Christian Ponder. This is a lot of points for Green Bay to lay on the road. I’ll go with the Vikings, who have more of a shot with Ponder.
COMPILED BY MATT YOUMANS