Matchups, prediction for a game with major playoff implications
Despite their contrasting results last time out, the Week 11 New England Patriots vs. Atlanta Falcons matchup is anything but easy to make a prediction for. Let’s take a look at the matchups that will decide this game before looking at the current betting line and making a prediction as the Patriots travel to Atlanta to take on the Falcons.
New England Patriots vs. Atlanta Falcons predictions | Patriots offense vs. Falcons defense
After a slow start to the season, the Patriots offense has really picked up since Week 5. In their first four games, they averaged just 17.75 points. Since then, however, they’ve scored under 20 points just once in six games. In fact, New England averaged 34 points in that span, winning five of six.
Meanwhile, the Falcons defense has been a hard group to judge in 2021. Four times this year, they have allowed more than 30 points in a game (including more than 40 twice). In contrast, they have allowed 20 or fewer points in three of nine games. Overall, they rank as the second-worst defense in the league in points allowed.
Mac Jones vs. Falcons defense
It has been an interesting last five weeks for Mac Jones. According to Pro Football Network’s Offensive Value Metric, in those five games, Jones has had his two most valuable performances this season and three of his worst four. During that time, his numbers are generally positive. He has a 66.2% completion rate, 1,090 passing yards, 8 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, and 2 fumbles lost.
While those numbers do not overwhelm on paper, he’s done exactly what is asked of him. During that time, the Patriots defense has forced 11 turnovers. Therefore, all Jones has had to do is take what the opponent gives him and make a play when the situation asks for it. He has done that well, and his standing has grown because of it.
Jones has a great opportunity to put up another solid week against the Falcons. Their pass defense is the second-worst in the league in passer rating allowed at 106.5. They have allowed completions at a rate of 69.1%, with a 6.1 touchdown rate, and just 3 interceptions at a rate of 1%.
Equally, one of the things that will be a relief to Jones is the lack of pressure the Falcons’ defense has got on opposing QBs. They rank last in the league, both in pressure rate (17.9%) and sack rate (3.4%). Jones has been under fire at times this year, but he should have the time to make plays against Atlanta.
Patriots skill-position weapons vs. Falcons secondary and linebackers
The Patriots’ skill position options are tough to figure out. They have leaned heavily on Jakobi Meyers, who has been targeted 76 times and finally found the end zone for the first time in his career. Kendrick Bourne has been an under-the-radar star, with 520 receiving yards, a catch rate of 76.7%, 15.8 yards per reception, and 12.1 yards per target.
While their other main receiver, Nelson Agholor, has been unreliable, they have utilized their tight ends and running backs. Hunter Henry is pulling in over 70% of his targets, while Brandon Bolden is sitting at over 90%. Add in the threat of Jonnu Smith, Damien Harris, and Rhamondre Stevenson, and this offense can attack teams in several ways.
Those weapons attacking the middle of the defense will be the key. The Falcons have struggled to cover with their linebackers and safeties this year. Foyesade Oluokun has allowed a completion rate of 83.8% at 10.4 yards per reception, with 1 touchdown. Then you have Deion Jones and Duron Harmon with passer ratings allowed of 111.5 and 132.5, respectively, this season.
Their defense on the outside is a mixed bag. A.J. Terrell has performed superbly. He is allowing just a 47.4% completion rate and 1 touchdown on the year. However, while Fabian Moreau has allowed just a 62.7% completion rate, he’s given up 7 touchdowns and 7.6 yards per target on 51 targets. The absence of Isaiah Oliver on the outside means there are many weak spots on this Falcons defense that the Patriots can exploit.
Patriots offensive line vs. Falcons defensive front
The Patriots’ offensive line has been very much a middle-of-the-road unit. Their performance has improved recently, including six straight games with over 100 rushing yards. Equally, when it comes to protecting Jones, they’ve improved. Jones was sacked 10 times in the first four games but just 9 in the past six.
As discussed above, the Falcons’ pass rush is not something that should cause the Patriots much concern. They are the worst in the league in pressure rate, sack rate, and seventh-worst in terms of hurry rate (8.4%).
Overall this season, the Falcons have done a solid job against the run, without being spectacular. Yet, in the past four weeks, they have allowed an average of 139.5 rushing yards per game.
New England should be able to do whatever they want on offense, both through the air and on the ground. If the Patriots can continue to run the ball well, they can cause the Falcons trouble getting off the field. The Patriots convert on third down at a 46.9% rate (fourth-best in the league), while the Falcons allow the second-worst conversion rate at 47.3%.
Atlanta Falcons offense vs. New England Patriots defense
What happened to the Falcons’ offense last week should have been considered a blip. However, it was just two weeks removed from them being able to muster only 13 points against the Panthers. In the other two weeks since their bye, they averaged 28.5 points, but only managed to win by a combined 4 points.
The Patriots’ defense has been on a fantastic run in the last month. They allowed just 13 points to the Jets, 6 points to the Panthers, and 7 to the Browns. Even with the 24 points allowed to the Chargers, they’ve allowed an average of just 12.5 points per game. Across the season, the Patriots are the second-best defense in terms of points allowed and points per drive.
Matt Ryan vs. Patriots defense
Matt Ryan’s struggle in Week 10 brought a fantastic run to a screeching halt. After a tough start to the season, Ryan had been on a good five-game stretch, one of his best since 2016, according to PFN’s OVM metric. In those games, Ryan completed 68.5% of his passes for 1,450 yards (290 yards per game), 11 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions.
The trouble is that while those five games have been very good, they are sandwiched by four poor games. The talent around Ryan does not position him well to succeed. He needs to elevate the players around him, and doing so against top defenses can be tough.
Unfortunately for Ryan, the Patriots are one of the top pass defenses in the league. They have the second-best passer rating allowed in the league (75.7%). That is based on their ability to restrict opposing passing games to a completion rate below 60%.
They are a top-10 defense in a number of categories. They allow just 6.8 yards per pass attempt, a 3.7% passing touchdown rate, and a 4% interception rate. In addition, New England’s allowed just 220 passing yards per game and are tied for second in the league with 14 interceptions this season.
Falcons skill-position weapons vs. Patriots secondary and linebackers
It has been a tough season for the Falcons’ skill position players. Calvin Ridley was having a tough season before he stepped away to focus on his mental health for presumably the remainder of the season. That has left rookie TE Kyle Pitts as the leader of the receiving group. He has a catch rate of 62.5% at an average of 15.2 yards per reception.
Outside of those two, it has been Cordarrelle Patterson who has thrived in his dual-wide receiver/running back role. He has the third-most targets on the team and is second in rushes. His potential absence Thursday is a major blow. It will leave the likes of Russell Gage, Mike Davis, and Olamide Zaccheaus needing to fill in and make plays for Ryan this week.
The problem for the Falcons is there are not many weak points in the Patriots’ defense. Dont’a Hightower has struggled in coverage, but with just 16 targets thrown at him, the Patriots rarely put him in a position to cover. That is because the likes of Kyle Van Noy and Ja’Whaun Bentley have generally been excellent in coverage. If Patterson is absent, the battle between Davis and those two in coverage could be key.
In the secondary, Jalen Mills has really been the only weak point. While he only allows a 61.9% completion rate, he has given up 4 touchdowns for a passer rating against of 117.5. Beyond that, the Patriots have two of the best defensive backs in the league this season in Devin McCourty (41.2% completion rate) and J.C. Jackson (5 interceptions). Furthermore, the supporting cast of Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, and Jonathan Jones are all performing better than league average.
Falcons offensive line vs. Patriots defensive front
This is another area that does not make pretty reading for the Falcons. Their offensive line is struggling to make holes in the running game, and it shows in the lack of success their backs have had. Their pass protection has been better, but Ryan has been sacked 7 times in the past three games, showing they are fallible.
The Patriots’ defensive front is quietly above league average. They are only slightly above league average against the run, but against a line that struggles in the run game, they don’t need to be any better. New England is also an above-average unit rushing the passer. They’re nothing spectacular, but they will cause Ryan trouble, as demonstrated by their seventh-best ranking in hurry rate.
Patriots at Falcons prediction and betting line
Wherever you look at the game, the signs point towards the Patriots being the superior team. Unless Ryan can play his very best, it’s hard to pinpoint anywhere the Falcons have a matchup advantage in this game. The betting line reflects that with the Patriots as 7-point favorites on the road in Atlanta.
We saw last week how upsets can happen in prime-time games, but the situations were different. Despite their records being closer than last Thursday, this feels like a game with a bigger disparity. As defensive coordinator of the Titans, Dean Pees did get the better of Patriots offensive play-caller Josh McDaniels. But Pees doesn’t have the same depth of talent now. Unless he can call a masterstroke, or the offense finds a way to move the ball with consistency, this game feels very one-sided.
Will the Patriots cover is a different matter. Seven points on the road is a lot. You are essentially saying that team is 10 points better than their opponent. With a rookie QB, it is always tough to back a team to cover that margin. Patriots to win by around a touchdown very much fees like the most likely outcome here.
Patriots vs. Falcons Prediction: Patriots 30, Falcons 23
*Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference unless otherwise stated.