NFL Picks: Falcons vs. 49ers Opening Odds Report

Jason Lake

Tuesday, December 17, 2013 2:19 PM GMT

The Atlanta Falcons were beating the NFL odds for a while there, but yet another key injury has them staring at the abyss with the San Francisco 49ers on tap.

Jason’s record on his final NFL picks for 2013, up to December 15 inclusive:

38-31-2 ATS

1-1 ML (+0.71 units)

8-17-1 Totals

I suppose many of us here knew it would come to this. The Atlanta Falcons were due to fall from grace after winning 13 games last season, and they’ve done just that at 4-10 SU and 5-9 ATS. But there was a brief, beautiful moment where the Falcons were beating the football spreads after hitting rock bottom. They took a three-game ATS streak into last Sunday’s matchup with Washington, and Atlanta won 27-26. Bad news: the Falcons were favored by 5.5 points at home.

Worse news: LB Sean Weatherspoon left the game with a knee injury and did not return. The Falcons had no update on Weatherspoon’s condition as we went to press; he has a long week to recover before Atlanta plays again on Monday Night Football, but if the captain of the Falcons defense doesn’t heal in time, his teammates will be up against the wall when they visit the smoking-hot San Francisco 49ers (10-4 SU and ATS). San Francisco opened as a 12-point favorite on the Week 16 NFL odds board with a total of 45.

[/]{"component":"oddswidget", "eventId":227107, "sportsbooksIds":[43], "LineTypeId":2, "PeriodTypeId":1}[/]

I Am Spoonbender

From a football betting perspective, losing a key linebacker on defense can be even more important than losing a left tackle or center on offense. Linebackers are typically the guys who make the most tackles; Weatherspoon had 70 of them last year in 13 games, two fewer than LB Stephen Nicholas for the team lead. The Falcons dropped the cash in two of the three games that ‘Spoon missed in 2012. They were 8-4-1 ATS otherwise.

This year’s been a painful one for Weatherspoon. He went down in Week 2 with a Lisfranc injury, one of those nasty foot problems that seems to take forever to heal. Indeed, Weatherspoon didn’t return to action until Week 11, and go figure, Atlanta’s three-game ATS streak began in Week 12. Ignore his injury status this week at your peril.

The South Shall Rise Again

Not having Weatherspoon in the lineup was a double whammy for a Falcons team that was already a top regression candidate for the 2013 campaign. Their 13-3 record in 2012 contained plenty of hidden “luck” according to the efficiency stats at Football Outsiders, which pegged Atlanta at 11.2 Pythagorean Wins and 9.1 Estimated Wins. Getting to play the No. 27-ranked strength of schedule (including the Bountygate-weakened New Orleans Saints) helped the Falcons run away with the NFC South.

Nothing’s coming easily for Atlanta this year. The Saints are back at 100-percent capacity, and the Carolina Panthers have taken a big step forward. Oh, and the schedule gods graced the 2012 Falcons with four games against the NFC East. They ran the table. This year? It’s the NFC West providing the opposition. Atlanta beat the St. Louis Rams in Week 2 (the game when Weatherspoon was injured), but the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals both won handily.

Crabtree & Evelyn

Now it’s San Francisco’s turn. The 49ers are in full flight as they try to nail down at least a Wild Card spot; they’ve won their last four games in a row at 3-1 ATS, and just about everyone has healed up in time for their playoff run. Just about everyone: WR Michael Crabtree hurt his left hand during last week’s 33-14 demolition of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+4.5 at home), although it doesn’t appear serious enough to keep him out of Monday night’s matchup (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).

If you’re willing to eat some chalk, I’m happy to recommend picking the 49ers here as double-digit favorites. Waiting for word on Weatherspoon’s status would be a good idea, though. He’s kind of important.

NFL Pick: Take the 49ers –11.5 at Bookmaker