NFL upset of the week: Feeling filthy backing the Dirty Birds

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The Browns were our upset pick last week, but the only statement they made on Sunday Night Football was: "We are not very good."

NFL teams had won 41 straight games when their opponent threw four interceptions. So Cleveland really had to do something special to lose despite Lamar Jackson's four picks.

It's frustrating that such a short-priced underdog could play so poorly when the opponent seemed to be trying to throw away the game. Still, we can find a larger underdog at a consequently better payout this week, hold our noses, and hope another surprising win is on the horizon during a season that's had plenty of them.

It surely would be surprising if the Atlanta Falcons beat our top-rated team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, at +400. Here's how it could happen more than the 20% of the time it would need to in order to be a valuable bet.

The spot

The Falcons peeled themselves off the floor to beat the Jaguars last week for their fifth (really!) win of the season. None of those wins against a list of sub-.500 teams have been impressive, and no one is buying in, but Atlanta is still clinging to a tie for the final NFC wild card.

Meanwhile, a dramatic win for the Buccaneers in Indianapolis last week gave them a commanding lead in the NFC South and two wins in seven days after a two-game losing streak. Tom Brady and Leonard Fournette reminded bettors that no lead is safe. The bigger takeaway, however, might be the Bucs struggling again on the road, with their first cover of the year coming on a late long run.

Falcons' offense vs. Bucs' defense

There's no great case to be made for the Falcons' offense, since Matt Ryan is headed for the Infuriating To Watch Hall of Fame - but, as strange as this may sound, the unit is functional as long as Cordarrelle Patterson is healthy for a full game.

This will be the fourth time that Ryan has faced Tampa Bay's defense in the last 12 months.

2020 Week 15 356 yards / 3 TD / 0 INT
2020 Week 17 265 yards / 2 TD / 0 INT
2021 Week 2 300 yards / 2 TD / 3 INT

Here are the scores going into the fourth quarter of each of those games:

  • 24-20 Falcons (@ATL)
  • 23-20 Buccaneers
  • 28-25 Buccaneers

Ryan and the Falcons were able to move the ball and put up points against Tampa, but, as usual, the issue with Ryan is the fourth quarter. Atlanta should have covered a double-digit spread comfortably in Week 2, even having edged Tampa in total yards (348-341), but the Buccaneers benefited from two deflected interceptions that ended up going the other way for pick-6s. Those plays have to be considered outliers, even if bad fourth quarters look like a legitimate trend for the Falcons.

When the Falcons' offense is clicking, Kyle Pitts finds success. The Bucs give up the second-most receptions to opposing tight ends, and Pitts had 73 yards in the first matchup.

Meanwhile, the injuries haven't subsided for the Buccaneers. There is concern Devin White will be out, or at least compromised, for Sunday, and it's possible that cornerback Jamel Dean will be out and Carlton Davis may still not be ready to return.

Falcons' defense vs. Buccaneers' offense

As much as the public fears backing Ryan, it fears fading Brady even more. While it's tough to argue that Brady won't have his way with the Falcons, the Buccaneers have been a different team offensively on the road this season, with losses to the Rams, Saints, and Washington Football Team.

HOME 5-0 38.4 6.26 20-3
ROAD 3-3 25.8  5.95 10-6

The Falcons' best chance to slow down Tampa is to stop the Bucs' top targets on third down. Antonio Brown doesn't appear ready to come back, and he had 16 receptions for 241 yards against the Falcons last season. Meanwhile, the Falcons are top 10 in production allowed to opposing tight ends.

Lastly, Ali Marpet was missing from the offensive line in Indianapolis. While the offense still managed to pull off a second-half comeback, the Bucs had issues when he missed extensive time last season.

With a 1-5 ATS record on the road and the Falcons' ability to move the ball on the Buccaneers, I don't mind taking a shot at a +400 price with a massive home underdog Sunday when my numbers suggest this is closer to a one-score game.

Pick: Falcons ML (+400)

Matt Russell is a betting writer for theScore. If there’s a bad beat to be had, Matt will find it. Find him on Twitter @mrussauthentic.

NFL upset of the week: Feeling filthy backing the Dirty Birds
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