The San Francisco 49ers meet the visiting Atlanta Falcons in an important NFC game on Sunday, but the spread seems a bit too high. We'll explain why in our Falcons-49ers picks.
I'm shocked that the Atlanta Falcons are competing in an important game for playoff seeding this late in the season as they were supposed to be quite terrible in 2021, but they are square in the NFC wild-card race as they visit the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday in Week 15. The Niners currently hold a wild-card spot.
Here are my picks and predictions for the NFL Week 15 matchup between the Falcons and 49ers (odds via DraftKings; pick confidence based on a 1-to-5-star scale).
Falcons vs. 49ers Game Info
Date/Time: Sunday, Dec. 19, 4:05 p.m. ETTV: CBSLocation: Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, CAWeather: Partly to mostly cloudy. High of 56 degrees.
Falcons vs. 49ers Odds Analysis
This game might have the most varied spreads of any in Week 15. It generally opened at 49ers -7.5 and is as high as -9.5 at some books (including DraftKings, which I'll be using) and as low as -8 at others. San Francisco is a stunning 0-9-1 against the spread in its past 10 as at least an eight-point favorite. Atlanta is 5-5 ATS in its past 10 as at least an eight-point dog. The total opened as low as 44.5 and is up to 45.5 at DraftKings and 46 at others.
Falcons vs. 49ers Picks
Falcons +9.5 (-110) ??Over 45.5 (-110) ??
SEE ALSO: All NFL Picks
Falcons vs. 49ers Predictions
Falcons +9.5 (-110)
I'm almost afraid to make any predictions on NFL games right now - or NBA or NHL, for that matter - because COVID-19 is running rampant across this country and rosters are being decimated. Sure, you can perhaps get on the lucky side of a major line move if you bet early in the week, but I recommend waiting until the last possible minute with the way the virus is raging again these days. It's better to be informed. That said, there are no major COVID issues on either team as of this writing.
Former Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith looked like a pretty bad choice as the new Falcons' head coach early this season, but at 6-7, the team still has a very realistic shot at a wild-card berth, though it probably will take no worse than a 3-1 finish and maybe 4-0. DraftKings gives the Falcons +500 odds to make the postseason and -1000 to miss.
Atlanta and San Francisco are two of 12 teams to have already improved their win total from last season and two of four to have rebounded from a last-place finish in 2020 and enter Week 15 in playoff position or within reach of a spot.
Why do I like the Falcons to cover here? For one, that 9.5-point spread is too high. Second, they have yet to win a game in their own stadium but are 6-2 straight up and ATS away from home (including a "home" game in London) this year. The Niners are 1-7-1 ATS as touchdown favorites under Kyle Shanahan, the former Falcons offensive coordinator. At home, Shanahan is 12-22-1 ATS.
Over 45.5 (-110)
One interesting storyline here will be arguably the NFC's best tight end facing off against the guy who may soon replace him for that title. I, of course, mean the Niners' George Kittle and Falcons rookie Kyle Pitts, respectively. With top wideout Deebo Samuel banged up, Kittle has gone nuts the past two weeks to become the first tight end in NFL history with at least 150 receiving yards and a TD in consecutive games.
Pitts, the No. 4 overall pick in this year’s draft, has 770 receiving yards, the fifth-most by a rookie TE in history. Mike Ditka holds the record with 1,076 in 1961. If you have Falcons running back/receiver Cordarrelle Patterson on your fantasy football team, you probably are in the playoffs. He's the first player in franchise history with at least five TDs and five receiving TDs in the same season. When the Falcons can protect Matt Ryan, they can score.
Defensively, though, Atlanta ranks last in the NFL with 16 sacks, last with a pressure rate of 23%, and 28th in points allowed at 27.2 per game. To make matters worse, starting safety Erik Harris suffered a torn pec last week and will miss the remainder of the season. Harris has been an every-down player.
Rather quietly, Niners QB Jimmy Garoppolo is averaging 12.6 yards per completion this season, which leads the NFL. And Jimmy G has the fourth-best completion rate when facing pressure this season at 56.1 percent of his attempts. So even if the Falcons can get to Garoppolo, they may be in trouble. The Niners also likely will get back top rusher and rookie Elijah Mitchell after he missed Week 14. Mitchell has been a sixth-round steal out of Louisiana.
The Over is 5-2 in San Francisco's past seven at home and 4-1 in the past five in this series. I expect the Niners to win by a score of 31-23.
Falcons-49ers picks made 12/14/2021 at 7:48 p.m. ET