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Falcons clear step up in class for untested New England

Weekly news conferences with Bill Belichick wind up being hilarious simply because he is humorless. It’s all mumbling and terse answers from a football genius wearing a frown and a hooded sweatshirt.

It has been a long time since Belichick coached a Super Bowl winner, but he still wins a lot of games and still is considered the best in his profession.

The difference this season is his New England Patriots are boring, and they are not that good. Obviously, Tom Brady is a great quarterback, but he’s surrounded by a mediocre bunch.

The Patriots are 3-0 and rank eighth in the NFL in total defense, so it might seem like something close to business as usual. But the record and defensive rank are deceiving.

In Week 1, New England slipped by Buffalo and its rookie quarterback. In Week 2, the Patriots held off the New York Jets and their rookie quarterback in one of the month’s ugliest games. Last week, they whipped winless Tampa Bay and a quarterback who is now a backup.

Brady beat EJ Manuel, Geno Smith and Josh Freeman by a combined 25 points, including a 20-point victory over the bumbling Buccaneers.

Now he’s opposing Matt Ryan and the Falcons in Atlanta on Sunday night, and this stage should prove the Patriots are not quite ready for prime time.

The Falcons, 1-2 with narrow losses at Miami and New Orleans, have covered 21 of their past 24 games after a loss. Ryan rarely loses in the Georgia Dome, where the fast track favors his speed receivers.

The matchup advantage goes to the Atlanta offense, and the situation favors the Falcons, who are laying 2 points and getting a majority of the betting action this week. The favorite is so popular, it’s scary.

The fear of Belichick — and his coaching mismatch against Mike Smith — is holding the line below a field goal. But the genius has much work to do with this team. Belichick, 17-5-2 against the spread as an underdog over the past decade, is usually an automatic take with a plus sign next to the Patriots.

Brady’s numbers are slipping while he adjusts to life with inexperienced receivers and no tight ends. He has connected on just 57.5 percent of his passes, and his completion percentage is 15.4 on throws of 20 yards or more downfield. The signs point to the Patriots going down.

Four more plays for Week 4 (home team in CAPS):

■ Steelers (-2½) over Vikings: Pittsburgh, which ranks No. 5 in total defense, has the personnel to corral running back Adrian Peterson. Although he’s making too many costly errors, Ben Roethlisberger is far more reliable than Minnesota quarterback Matt Cassel. The downside is this opened Steelers minus-1, so the line value is gone if it goes to 3.

■ BROWNS (+4½) over Bengals: If there’s a letdown spot for Cincinnati, this is it. The Bengals are off emotional victories over Green Bay and Pittsburgh. Cleveland, 2-0-1 ATS in the past three meetings, has momentum after Brian Hoyer stepped in at quarterback and beat the Vikings.

■ CHARGERS (+2) over Cowboys: The biggest difference for Dallas has been the production from running back DeMarco Murray. San Diego is showing a tendency to blow second-half leads, but being good enough to lead Houston, Philadelphia and Tennessee late in games is a positive. The Cowboys are 8-23-1 ATS in their past 32 tries as favorites.

■ SAINTS (-6½) over Dolphins: One of the league’s best road teams, Miami is running into the league’s top home team. New Orleans has covered 11 straight in the Superdome with Sean Payton coaching. Drew Brees and the Saints rank sixth in total offense, while the Dolphins rank 26th.

Favorites and ’dogs are 23-23-2 ATS for the season. I’m striving to reach that level of mediocrity.

Last week: 1-4 against the spread

Season: 4-10-1

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.

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