Patriots the smart play against Falcons on Sunday Night Football - NBC Sports

Patriots the smart play against Falcons on Sunday Night Football
New England dominates when traveling as an underdog, and Atlanta favored by 1.5 points
September 25, 2013, 3:30 pm

New England is rarely an underdog, and when it hits the road as one, it usually covers the spread.

The Patriots visit the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday Night Football, and while they opened Monday as 1.5-point favorites, they were  quickly bet down to 1.5-point dogs at most sportsbooks monitored by

In their past seven games as road underdog of less than three points, they are 6-1 ATS.

More from Computer likes Rams over 49ers on Thursday night

But they face a hungry (and banged-up) Falcons team that always seems to win and cover at home early in the season. The NFL database shows the Falcons are 14-1 straight up, 12-3 against the spread in 15 September home games since 2003.

As expected, the Patriots are undefeated this season at 3-0. 

Unexpectedly, the Falcons, who finished with the best record in the NFC and tied for the best in the NFL last season, are 1-2 after the first three weeks of the season. The two clubs meet at the Georgia Dome.

Perhaps Atlanta coach Mike Smith's ire has bettors intrigued, as he was none too pleased after the Falcons scored just two touchdowns on five drives that reached the red zone against the Miami Dolphins. 

The Fins, on the other hand, went 3-for-3 -- all touchdowns -- and won the game, 27-23. And make note, two weeks earlier, in the season lid-lifter, the Falcons lost, 23-17, in New Orleans when four pass plays from at furthest the Saints' seveb-yard line failed to score in the final 1:09.

Now Atlanta plays host to the undefeated Patriots, who are out to prove they'll be OK without Wes Welker and that the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady combination is working just fine.

And while the Pats rank a modest 17th with their total offense, it's their 24th-ranked defense the Falcons hope to expose. Atlanta is a banged up unit, but must establish its once daunting passing game behind quarterback Matt Ryan.

Though New England isn't near the top of the defensive list for efficiency, it is tied with the Kansas City Chiefs for fewest points allowed (34). And seven came on a fumble return, so Belichick's stop unit has given up merely three touchdowns. 

Then again, the Patriots faced three of the NFL's weaker teams: the Buffalo Bills, New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Patriots apparently need only three weeks to warm up for their faithful bettors, as they've covered six straight years in Week 4. Nonetheless, they're also mired in a 1-4 ATS slide the week after cashing in at the window. 

On the flipside, Atlanta is on a long-term 23-9 spread streak after losing straight-up but is also mired in a 1-5 ATS slide overall.

The NFL picks computer predicts a 26-17 final for the Patriots.