Seattle and Atlanta play in Week 1 and we have a strong betting pick with point-counterpoint-type analysis for the season opener.
Seattle Seahawks vs. Atlanta Falcons
Sunday, September 13, 2020 – 01:00 PM EDT at Mercedes-Benz Stadium
Bad Reason To Like Atlanta: The Turnaround
One reason why some want to make an NFL Pick on the Falcons is that the Falcons finished last season on a 6-2 SU and ATS run. The problem with this detail is that it’s erroneous to assume that Atlanta will replicate its mid-to-end-season form in Week 1 of the following season.
With Coronavirus limiting team practice opportunities, it would be more pertinent to ask if these players will show any semblance of positive form in Week 1.
Bad Reason To Like Atlanta: Atlanta Pass Rush vs. Seattle Offensive Line
An obvious weakness in Seattle’s roster is its offensive line. Three starting offensive linemen justifiably lost their spot on the roster during the offseason. Their replacements don’t seem to be better. Plus, they need to find chemistry with each other.
With Dante Fowler lining up with 2019 All-Pro second-teamer Grady Jarrett, Atlanta seemingly has the pass rush to take advantage. Fowler is coming off an 11.5-sack season.
While Atlanta has this advantage on paper, it means nothing with Russell Wilson at quarterback. Despite having poor pass protection, Wilson had one of his best seasons ever last year in several respects. He threw 31 touchdowns to five interceptions. Lack of pass protection is not unusual for the Seahawks.
It’s partly not a big deal because they prefer to line up in shotgun — they ran the fourth-highest percentage of plays in shotgun formation last season. Individually, Wilson is an escape artist who throws well on the run even if it's to the left side. It can only help to have a now healthy veteran in four-time Pro Bowler Duane Brown protecting Wilson’s blindside.
Atlanta Secondary vs. Seattle Pass Attack
Atlanta’s secondary is weak. In the offseason, the Falcons released its top veteran cornerback, Desmond Trufant. This decision places an additional onus on Isaiah Oliver to overcome his horrible regression — as measured by his PFF grade — last season. Plus, Atlanta hopes for A.J. Terrell to have an immediate cornerback.
Many, including myself, think that the former Clemson corner was a reach with the 16th pick of the NFL Draft. But the Falcons really need help at the position. With Russell Wilson unbothered by Atlanta’s pass rush, he can enjoy the fruits of having cultivated very positive chemistry with his receivers.
Regularly, Tyler Lockett has one of the NFL’s best passer ratings when targeted. He is elusive, has great footwork, and his route-running ensures him clean separation and sizable cushion from his defender. Opponents cannot press Lockett because of the deep-play threat generated by his speed.
Complementing Lockett is D.K. Metcalf. With his size and physicality, he secured the third-most amount of receiving yards (900) for rookies. Like tight end Will Dissly, who is extremely underrated given his 88.5 percent catch rate, Metcalf doesn’t need to be open to be a reliable target.
Bad Reason To Like Atlanta: Seattle’s Pass Rush
Seattle’s defensive line took a hit with the loss of Jadeveon Clowney. It is true that Atlanta’s offensive line is very young and uncertain beyond its left tackle and center. But the Seahawks’ own lack of pass rush could mean that Matt Ryan has plenty of time to find his star-studded receivers. Isn’t this a problem?
The Seahawks do not need to worry because of Kansas City. Last season, the Chiefs’ defense enjoyed a tremendous statistical improvement despite losing a significant amount of its pass rush from 2018. They improved so strongly because they retooled their secondary.
This year, the Seahawks are in a good place defensively. They still own a bevy of linebackers like Bobby Wagner who excel against the run, not to mention the run support that may come from versatile safety Jamal Adams. In addition, they now have a top-caliber secondary.
Seattle Secondary vs. Atlanta Passing
Cornerback Quinton Dunbar finished last year with PFF’s second-highest grade. Given his length at 6-2 he’s an eminently reasonable addition to Seattle’s defensive scheme alongside Pro Bowl cornerback Shaquill Griffin. Dunbar’s speed makes him helpful against Falcon speedster Calvin Ridley.
Quandre Diggs joined Seattle for Week 10 last season. He proved to be a turnover-inducing playmaker, a mainstay against the deep ball, and somebody whose range and play recognition helps the cornerbacks be more effective. He forms a strong safety pairing with Adams who has considerably improved his coverage abilities since his rookie season.
Based on the opposing passer rating, Adams is one of the more redoubtable safeties when targeted. Last year, among safeties whom PFF ranked top-10 in run defense, Adams allowed the fewest yards per cover snap. As evident in his touchdowns per target ratio, the Falcons’ top receiver Julio Jones is not a touchdown threat.
Instead, the Falcons rely significantly on their tight ends to make plays in the end zone. But a lot of footage shows Adams’ ability to cover tight ends man-to-man.
There may seem to be good reasons to bet on Atlanta. After addressing those reasons, it’s clear that there aren’t good reasons to bet on the Falcons.
Russell Wilson will take over with his playmaking ability, which will allow him to avoid pressure and maximize the diverse skill set of his deep pass-catching crew against Atlanta’s lack of coverage. Matt Ryan will have trivially more time to throw. But he won’t have reliable targets, especially where it matters most (the end zone) thanks to Seattle’s revamped secondary.
Top-rated sportsbooks have already released their NFL odds. For the above reasons, we want to invest now in the Seahawks. If I like a favorite, I will always take it on the moneyline if it’s cheap. That’s my personal preference. But feel free to take the Seahawks ATS as well.