2012 Week 12 NFL Picks: New Orleans Saints @ Atlanta Falcons Vegas Odds and Predictions – Free NFL Picks 11/29/2012: For the last several seasons New Orleans and Atlanta have been battling for supremacy in the NFC South. There has been no such battle this year as the Falcons (10-1) have basically wrapped up the division as they prepare to host the New Orleans Saints (5-6). That being said, this game isn’t a slam dunk for the home team. After all, Atlanta’s only blemish this year was a 31-27 loss to the Saints a few weeks ago, and New Orleans has won five of its last seven games after starting the year 0-4. As a result, the Falcons are favored Thursday, but only by three points.

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Both teams are powered by high-scoring, pass-first offenses. Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan leads the second-ranked passing attack, and he has thrown for more than 3,400 yards while completing 68.5 percent of his passes. Meanwhile, New Orleans QB Drew Brees has topped 3,300 yards for the fifth-ranked passing attack and leads the NFL with 31 touchdown passes. Both players have plenty of weapons to work with. Atlanta has a pair of explosive receivers in Roddy White and Julio Jones to go along with the tight end Tony Gonzalez. New Orleans counters with receivers Marques Colston and Lance Moore, along with tight end Jimmy Graham and versatile running back Darren Sproles. With all the firepower, it is no surprise that both teams rank in the top 10 in the league in points per game.

Defensively, Atlanta has allowed a lot of yardage to opponents, but the Falcons have been a bend-but-don’t-break unit all year. Despite ranking outside the top 10 against both the run and the pass, Atlanta is allowing less than 20 points per game. New Orleans on the other hand has been atrocious on defense. The Saints enter Thursday’s matchup ranked 30th against the pass and dead last against the run while allowing the fifth-most points per game in the league.

The Saints Win If:

Shockingly, the Saints’ ground game played a big part in their victory over Atlanta earlier in the month. The Saints ran 29 times for 148 yards, averaging more than five yards per carry. If New Orleans is able to establish a bit of a ground game once again, it will make the Saints’ passing attack that much harder for Atlanta to stop. Not to mention to the fact that a strong running game will force the Falcons’ linebackers to inch closer to the line of scrimmage, opening up space for Graham to work. Atlanta didn’t have an answer for the Saints’ tight end in the first meeting, and if he has another big game, there is no reason Brees and company can’t outscore the Falcons a second time.

The Falcons Win If:

When the Falcons lost to the Saints earlier this year, they piled up plenty of yardage, including more than 400 yards through the air. However, the Falcons were unable to finish off drives with touchdowns and settled for three field goals that ultimately cost them the game. Facing a New Orleans defense that has been gashed by just about every team it has faced, Ryan and company have to polish of scoring drives this time around. Defensively, Atlanta has to limit the production of Graham. He killed the Falcons to the tune of 146 yards and two scores in the first meeting, and as San Francisco showed last weekend, slowing down Graham goes a long way to slowing down the Saints. The game figures to be high scoring, but if Atlanta get six points instead of three on a consistent basis and keeps Graham in check, the Falcons can get revenge on their division rivals.

Bottom Line:

The bounty scandal and the loss of coach Sean Payton definitely took its toll on New Orleans to start the year, but since their 0-4 start, the Saints’ only two losses have come to division leaders Denver and San Francisco. The defense is still a mess, but Brees and the offense can win a shootout against any team in the NFL. Atlanta’s similar offensive philosophy actually plays to the strength of New Orleans, and rather than controlling clock and keeping Brees on the sidelines, the Falcons will be looking to score a bunch of points, as well. The Saints showed earlier this month that they can outscore the Falcons, even if Ryan has a monster game. Another back-and-forth, high-scoring affair should be on tap Thursday, and that is exactly the type of game New Orleans is built to win.

Prediction: New Orleans Saints (+3.5) Cover the Spread

New Orleans Saints @ Atlanta Falcons
Line: Atlanta -3.5
Total: Over/Under 55
Time: 8:30 PM EST on NFL Network

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