Monday Night NFL Picks: Atlanta Falcons @ New Orleans Saints Monday Night NFL Week 16 Vegas Odds, Free Picks, and Expert Predictions on ESPN 12/26/11: One of the up-and-coming rivalries in the NFL will add another chapter Monday night when the Atlanta Falcons (9-5) visit the Superdome to face the New Orleans Saints (11-3). The two teams finished first and second in the NFC South last season, and they are going to do the same again this year. New Orleans can wrap up the division with a win Monday, but the defending NFC South champion Falcons would love to delay the celebration and keep their hopes of a repeat alive. The game should feature the intense, playoff-like atmosphere that comes when two strong teams go head to head. That being said, the Saints are seven-point favorites on their home turf.

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When the two teams got together earlier this year, it took overtime to decide the outcome. New Orleans left Atlanta with a 26-23 victory thanks a finish that nobody saw coming. After rallying late to tie the game, the Falcons faced a fourth-and-one situation in overtime in their own territory. Atlanta coach Mike Smith made the call to go for it, and after running back Michael Turner was stuffed in the backfield, the Saints quickly converted the turnover into a game-winning field goal. It was the third straight game between the two teams decided by three points and the second decided in overtime.

Both teams enter the matchup with plenty of momentum. New Orleans has won its last six games, while Atlanta has won four its last five. Offensively, both sides are balanced as far as the numbers are concerned, despite the Saints being a pass-heavy team and the Falcons being a run-first team. The different approaches have both been effective, and both teams rank in the top 10 in the NFL in points scored. The Saints have the edge in terms of production, scoring more than 32 points a game, which is second only to the Green Bay Packers.

Not surprisingly, the powerful offenses are guided by two of the best quarterbacks in the game today. New Orleans’ Drew Brees is having a career year and is on pace to top 40 touchdowns and to shatter Dan Marino’s single-season record for passing yards. Meanwhile, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan continues on the path to stardom, and he is looking at a 4,000-plus yard, 30-plus touchdown season. Both players have plenty of weapons to work with, including excellent options at receiver and tight end. Considering both defenses struggle to defend the pass, Brees and Ryan could be part of a shootout Monday night.

The X-factor in the matchup could be Atlanta receiver Julio Jones. The speedy rookie is as healthy as he has been in several weeks, and he is starting to make big plays in the passing game. Jones has more than 700 receiving yards on the year and is averaging 18.0 yards per reception. He is the one player on the Atlanta offense capable of turning any play into a score, and facing a New Orleans team known for explosive plays on offense, Jones quick strike ability could come in handy.

Despite all the firepower on offense, meetings between these two teams have had a way of being controlled and close the past two years. It’s worth noting that neither team has cracked the 30-point mark in the last three meetings. Atlanta does a good job of using Turner and the ground game to take the air out of the ball and limit the Saints’ time of possession. Meanwhile, New Orleans has been unable to pull away even after building early leads. As good as the Saints have been at home this season, especially on offense, history says this game is going down to the wire. Seven points is simply too much.

Prediction: Atlanta Falcons (+7) Cover the Spread

Free NFL Football Picks and Predictions: Atlanta +7

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Week 16 NFL Football: Atlanta Falcons @ New Orleans Saints
Date: 12/26/011
Time: 8:35 PM EST on ESPN
Vegas Odds - Favorite: New Orleans -7 Total: Over/Under 52.5

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