Falcons vs. 49ers Monday Night Football

Jason Lake

Thursday, December 19, 2013 2:53 PM GMT

If it’s December, the NFL injury reports must be filled to the brim. Here’s the latest on Monday night’s matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the San Francisco 49ers.

Jason’s record on his final NFL picks for 2013, up to December 16 inclusive:

39-31-2 ATS

1-1 ML (+0.71 units)

9-17-1 Totals

It’s pretty remarkable how the San Francisco 49ers (10-4 SU and ATS) have thrived this season. They’ve avoided the dreaded SBRS (Super Bowl Runners-up Syndrome), and they’ve managed to keep winning despite having so many players injured and/or suspended this year. It speaks well to their organization and their talent level. But San Francisco isn’t completely healthy. Nobody is at this time of year.

Just ask the Atlanta Falcons (4-10 SU, 5-9 ATS). Their 2013 season has been undone by regression and injuries, the same kind of stuff San Francisco has magically dodged. Can the Falcons get it together and play the spoiler when these two teams meet on Monday Night Football (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)? The NFL lines are giving Atlanta 12 points with a total of 45.

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All My Friends are Skeletons

We’ve already told you about Falcons LB Sean Weatherspoon and the knee injury he suffered last week against Washington. There hasn’t been a lot of discussion since then, which is presumably good news for Atlanta supporters. But tongues are starting to wag now that Weatherspoon has missed the open portion of Wednesday’s practice session. WR Darius Johnson (21 catches) also missed practice with a high-ankle sprain and might have to sit out the rest of the season.

San Francisco didn’t escape last week unscathed, either. WR Michael Crabtree (85 catches last year) suffered that injury to his left hand; again, we haven’t heard much chatter about this, and the Niners won’t be practicing in full until Thursday, so we’ll have to bide our time. But it doesn’t appear to be a serious enough injury to keep Crabtree from playing Monday.

It’s Not Miller Time

The same can’t be said for FB Bruce Miller, who broke his scapula and is expected to miss the rest of the season. Who the hell is Bruce Miller? You almost never hear his name called; Miller has just 16 carries for 39 yards in his three years with the 49ers. But don’t let that fool you. Miller is one of the best fullbacks in the league. Pro Football Focus has him ranked No. 4 at his position.

Like offensive linemen, fullbacks are criminally underappreciated by the NFL betting public. Wide receivers like Crabtree aren’t exactly a dime a dozen, but as long as there are enough healthy bodies for QB Colin Kaepernick to target, the Niners passing offense will do just fine. That’s not the case for their running game. Miller’s blocking is the reason RB Frank Gore (4.2 yards per carry) has already cracked the 1,000-yard mark this year. And his absence will go almost completely unnoticed by most casual NFL betting fans.

Christmas Stuffing

Fortunately for the Niners, Atlanta’s No. 22-ranked rush defense isn’t likely to put much pressure on Gore, especially if Weatherspoon is unavailable to play strongside linebacker (aka “Sam”) in the Falcons’ base 4-3 system. San Francisco might be able to get away, at least in the short term, with playing powerful RB Anthony Dixon in Miller’s place. The Niners are also considering bringing DE/FB Will Tukuafu back into the fold after releasing him with an injury settlement in September.

Since we’re dealing with such a large point spread here, I will once again recommend you wait a while to get more information on the injury front before jumping on Monday’s NFL betting lines. But I’ll stick with San Francisco as my pick for the purposes of this column. May the prolate spheroid be with you.

NFL Pick: Take the Niners –11.5 at Heritage