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Tuesday, 11 December, 2018

NFC South rvals may not serve up anticipated points feast

Divisional battles look key to fortunes of Falcons and Saints

Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan
1 of 1

Sky Sports Action, 6pm Sunday

The three members of the NFC South who forced their way into the playoffs last season - Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans - were bound to place plenty of emphasis on their divisional battles this year.

However, they may not have anticipated that they would all be looking up at Tampa Bay in the table after the Bucs recorded surprising wins against the Saints and Super Bowl winners Philadelphia.

That places even greater importance on the trio's matches against each other and Atlanta will be pleased that they gained an advantage in that respect last week when they posted a 31-24 victory over the Panthers.

Last season's 10-6 was probably a disappointment for the Falcons, whose offence was in devastating form on their way to the Super Bowl in their previous campaign.

But after struggling to punch the ball over the line in an opening-night defeat against the Eagles, they appeared to remedy that situation last week, even in the absence of injured running back Devonta Freeman. 

Tevin Coleman rushed for a decent average carry of 6.7 yards while quarterback Matt Ryan took matters into his own hands by sneaking over for a couple of touchdowns.

They will consider themselves back on track while the Saints have work to do as they needed 18 fourth-quarter points and a hefty slice of luck to see off Cleveland.

Sean Payton's side would be 0-2 had the Browns possessed a functional place kicker and even though Mark Ingram's suspension can be cited as an excuse, there have to be concerned that they were restricted to just 62 yards on the ground in their 21-18 victory.

Wide receiver Michael Thomas caught two touchdown passes last week and it is a dangerous game to underestimate quarterback Drew Brees's qualities, but these are two teams who have proved themselves not be complete slouches on the other side of the ball over the last couple of seasons.

Ryan and Brees are capable of producing spectacular plays but this may not be the points-fest that many observers anticipate.

Both teams know they cannot afford to slip up in such a big game and they may not serve up a classic despite the presence of the two gunslingers.

The points line is 53.5 and that looks plenty. There have been some big-scoring games between the pair in the last decade, but just three of the last 11 meetings in Georgia have eclipsed that total.

It could be worth swimming against the public perception in this one and anticipate a tough rather than eye-catching spectacle.

Under 53.5 points
2pts 20-21 Betfred

The lowdown
Venue Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia
Surface Artificial
Weather Indoors
Vegas handicap New Orleans +3
Vegas points line 53.5

Team news
New Orleans
Linebacker Manti Te’o is out with a knee injury while running back Mark Ingram is suspended.

Defensive end Takk McKinley (groin) and running back Devonta Freeman (knee) are both out.

Key stat
New Orleans have covered the handicap in 13 of their last 19 away games.

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Wide receiver Michael Thomas caught two touchdown passes last week
E.W. Terms
Sky bet