Your early NFL Coach of the Year favorite has to be Atlanta's first-year Dan Quinn. His Falcons are 4-0 and atop the NFC South. They're also -8 the NFL odds board for Sunday's game vs. Washington.
Falcons Look Like NFC Contender
Atlanta was so sold on Quinn that it waited until after Seattle's Super Bowl loss to hire him. Owner Arthur Blank gave Quinn the final say over the 53-man roster, which is somewhat rare these days for a head coach. The Falcons had been just 10-22 in the final two seasons of former coach Mike Smith's tenure. You can see why Quinn targeted this job over others: the Falcons had a franchise quarterback in place in Matt Ryan and one of the league's top receivers in Julio Jones. Quinn just had to fix the defense.
Atlanta comes off a 48-21 home blowout of Houston on Sunday, the Falcons' first game this season against a team from somewhere other than the NFC East. Devonta Freeman, who began the season as the No. 2 tailback behind third-round rookie Tevin Coleman, had his second straight three touchdown game. Freeman, who rushed for three touchdowns in his first career start in Atlanta’s win at Dallas in Week 3, is the only player since at least the 1970 merger to rush for at least three touchdowns in each of his first two career starts. He leads the NFL with seven rushing touchdowns and is the first player to rush for at least seven TDs in his team’s first four games to start a season since the Chargers' LaDainian Tomlinson had eight in 2005. Freeman is the first player in Falcons history to have seven rushing touchdowns in the team’s first four games to begin a season. Coleman was solid in Week 1 but hurt his ribs in Week 2 and hasn't played since. The team thinks he might return for this one, but clearly he has lost that starting gig.
About the only negative from the Houston win was that Jones came up well short in trying to tie the NFL record with a fourth straight game of at least 135 yards receiving. He was held to 38 yards on four catches (six targets) against the Texans. He's still on pace to finish with 152 catches for 1,912 yards and 16 touchdowns. That's pretty good.
The Falcons are 4-0 against the spread on NFL odds and 2-2 'over/under.'
Gruden Safe For Now
When the season began, Washington's Jay Gruden was the betting favorite on NFL odds to be the first head coach fired. But that honor went to Miami's Joe Philbin on Monday. Gruden has done a pretty solid job with Washington at 2-2. The Redskins come off a 23-20 home win over the Eagles on Sunday. Kirk Cousins had a strong game, completing 31-for-46 for 290 yards, a touchdown and no picks (those are often a problem area of his). He led the go-ahead 90-yard drive, capped by hitting Pierre Garcon on a 4-yard touchdown pass with 26 seconds left. Alfred Morris rushed 17 times for 62 yards in the win. The Redskins lead the NFL in rushing yards.
Washington lost tight end Jordan Reed to a concussion against the Eagles and Gruden said there is "no timetable" for his return. Reed leads the Redskins with 24 receptions (tied with Garcon) for 278 yards. It's possible that receiver DeSean Jackson could play here. He hasn't played since the opener due to a hamstring injury. Linebacker Perry Riley is expected to return to practice Wednesday after missing the past two games with a calf injury.
Washington might have a minor advantage here in that some Redskins players are familiar with Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan as he used to hold the same role in Washington.
The Redskins are 2-2 against the spread on NFL picks and 1-3 O/U.
The teams met at the Georgia Dome in Week 15 of the 2013 season, a 27-26 Falcons win. Desmond Trufant deflected Cousins' pass on a potential winning 2-point conversion with 18 seconds remaining; not sure why then-coach Mike Shanahan didn't just kick the extra point to tie the game. The Redskins committed a whopping seven turnovers, including tying a team record with five lost fumbles (two by Morris). Atlanta scored 20 points off those seven turnovers. Cousins threw for 381 yards and three scores but also two picks. That was his first start of that season. Matt Ryan was 29-for-38 for 210 yards with a touchdown and pick for the Falcons. Jones missed that game with an injury.
NFL Free Picks: Lean Atlanta here, although I'd probably hold off and wait for an alternate line of (7) or lower.