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Against the Spread: 2011 NFL Picks: Week 4

Atlanta Falcons at Seattle Seahawks (+4.5)

This game pits a terrible road team against a team that is just plain terrible. So why am I picking this game for the column?

My editor questioned me this week when I told him I was dropping the Patriots/Raiders game from the column for this game. He said people want to read about more interesting games, and I countered with I'm more interested in finding value. This game has a lot of value to me, as I think the public is going to overreact to that embarrassing Falcons loss to Tampa Bay last week and the Seahawks' victory at home against the Cardinals.

It's well-established now that the Falcons were overachievers last year, winning 13 games when they probably should have won 10 or 11 games. We've seen a lackluster team this year that lost on the road in Chicago, nearly blew a game against a bumbling Eagles team, and then lost on the road to the Buccaneers by first failing to score a late-game touchdown and then watching the defense get conned into jumping offside on a critical fourth down and one.

The advantage Atlanta has in this game against the Seahawks is clear. The offense has turned the ball over eight times in three games against pretty tough defenses. The Seahawks do not have the type of defense that can push the Falcons around. However, it is concerning that quarterback Matt Ryan has trouble throwing the ball on the road. In the team's one victory this season, which came at home, Ryan threw the ball only 28 times and yet had four TD passes. On the road, he's far worse with 47 attempts in each game with one touchdown and two interceptions.

The Seahawks are a far better home team historically, with CenturyLink Field considered to be the best home-field advantage for any team in the NFL. Perhaps the 12th man is enough to rattle Matt Ryan, or perhaps the Seahawks defense can put up another good game at home. After failing to score at all against Pittsburgh in Week 2, the Seahawks returned home and eked out a 13-10 victory of the Cardinals. The difference for Seattle in that game over the previous two was two forced turnovers on defense. Given that Matt Ryan throws more interceptions than touchdowns on the road, this should be a no-brainer, right?

According to Vegas Insider, the Las Vegas Hilton opened with Atlanta as 4.5-point favorites late Sunday, and that line has not budged an inch. At the Wynn, the Falcons have moved to 5-point favorites, as it seems that book wants more bets to come in on Seattle. A few other sports books have Atlanta laying 4 points, so there could be a good opportunity to hedge this bet and find a middle.'s Bessire is leaning toward Seattle, though. "Atlanta is going on the road without a dominant team," he says. "Atlanta never had a dominant team last year despite a 13-3 record. It's going to be hard to cover a 4.5-point line without explosive players. We want a team that can be expected week in and week out to put another team away."

"Normally, I would jump on the home dogs," says's Leonard. "But I pay a lot of attention to the first half, and Seattle has played three games and scored a total of 3 points in the first half. If you're getting beat that bad, you're not very good. Seattle is normally one of my favorite teams to play at home, and I'm not a huge believer in Atlanta, but Seattle is so bad. And yet, the line keeps going up early in the week. The smart guys are still willing to bet Atlanta."

The Pick: Falcons -4.5. Nine short months ago, the Falcons traveled to Seattle and beat the Seahawks 34-18 as 6-point favorites, so winning on the road and covering the spread in CenturyLink Field isn't an issue for Atlanta. The Falcons return with the same team mostly intact, while Tavaris Jackson is now under center for Seattle. I don't expect the score to be quite so wide this time around, but I think Atlanta wins by a margin of 6 or 7 points.
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