Two teams with short winning streaks meet in the 2018 NFL campaign’s ninth week. The Atlanta Falcons [3-4] visit FedEx Field in the nation’s capital to take on the NFC East-leading Washington Redskins [5-2]. The pressure is on the Falcons to not allow their season to slip away and the ‘Skins to consolidate their position and prove they’re a cut above the Dallas Cowboys and defending Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles.
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Washington head coach Jay Gruden resembles the fella on Antique Roadshow who discovers he’s picked up a long-lost Vincent van Gogh masterpiece at the flea market. Both quarterback Alex Smith and tailback Adrian Peterson are castoffs that other coaches no longer wanted. Andy Reid let the 34-year-old Smith go for a song to hand his offence over to young gun Patrick Mahomes. Smith has responded with a steadfast 1561 yards passing, eight touchdowns and just two interceptions. Peterson, 33, played for both New Orleans and Arizona last season. In ten games combined, he rushed for 529 yards and two TDs. He already has 587 and four this term.
Atlanta coach Dan Quinn, two years removed from an epic Super Bowl collapse is retooling on the fly. Tevin Coleman is now the main ball carrier and Steve Sarkisian is calling the plays in his second year, from the sideline no less. Matt Ryan can still sling it. The Boston College product, now in his 11th season with the Falcons, has put up 2,335 yards passing with 15 TDs and two INTs.
Quinn’s woes stem mainly from the defence, specifically the secondary. Of the last 10 offensive TDs scored against the Dirty Birds, eight were passes. It’s not that the defensive backs are being stretched, either. Seven came from inside the red zone. They just can’t cover anyone.
Atlanta is relatively healthy. RB Devonta Freeman remains on the IR with a groin problem. Kicker Matt Bryant is questionable for the game with a hamstring problem. Emergency replacement Giorgio Tavecchio was perfect against Philadelphia last week, with two extra points and three field goals, one for 56 yards.
Washington isn’t so lucky. Three starters and as many second-stringers are listed as questionable for the game. Wideout Jamison Crowder, left tackle Trent Williams and right cornerback Quinton Dunbar comprise the first group, RB Chris Thompson, left corner Adonis Alexander and weakside linebacker Ryan Anderson the other.
The LINE favours the Redskins by 1.5 points in this one. The TOTAL is 47.5. Something has to give there. Sarkisian’s offence racked up 30 points or more in four of their last six but went nine points UNDER against another NFC East opponent, the New York Giants, last week. Washington hasn’t conceded 20 points in their last three. They did surrender 43 to New Orleans before the streak began.
Atlanta is OVER in their last four after failing to cover but they’re UNDER in six of their last seven following a STRAIGHT UP win. The ‘Skins are UNDER in their last four after surrendering more than 250 yards in the air and their last five against losing teams. They’re also 5-0 AGAINST THE SPREAD vs teams with a losing road record, but that’s countered by the road team in this series sitting 5-1 ATS entering this tilt.
There’s a strong case for the UNDER in this one. Washington’s a top defence at home and Atlanta stalled in their last outing, rescued by a journeyman placekicker. On the other hand, the teams have alternated between OVER and UNDER in the last six and it’s OVER’s turn.
In the end, I think it’s simple. Atlanta can score and still lose. Washington doesn’t score much but consistently wins. Take the Redskins and give the points.
Martin Palazzotto is a freelance writer and author of strange bOUnce, a collection of sport fiction.