- Jeff Gold, ESPN Contributor
It's hard to believe what has happened to the Atlanta Falcons this season. A team that has been a model of consistency for the past five seasons and was a clear Super Bowl favorite coming into the year has become one of the worst teams in the league. They're an almost unfathomable nine-point underdog at home tonight against the New Orleans Saints.
At this point, due to countless injuries, Atlanta (2-8 straight up, 2-8 against the spread) appears to be nothing more than Matt Ryan, Tony Gonzalez and a bunch of guys. But if there's ever going to be a game that the Falcons will put a maximum effort into the rest of the season, it should be tonight: a nationally televised home game against their archrival. There doesn't figure to be another game the rest of the season that Atlanta will be as motivated to win.
The Saints (8-2 SU, 6-4 ATS) and Falcons have taken turns winning the NFC South in recent years. One of the two teams has won the division every season since 2009.
There's been bad blood at times, highlighted by linebacker Curtis Lofton's departure from the Falcons to the Saints prior to last year. Falcons players allegedly taunted Lofton during warm-ups. After the game -- a Saints victory that ended the Falcons' 8-0 start to the 2012 season -- Saints linebacker Scott Shanle referred to the Falcons as the Saints' "little brother" and said the Saints "own" the Falcons.
According to ESPN Insider's PickCenter, the Saints are getting all the love from the public, which is backing New Orleans at an 80 percent rate. The public is never too fond of teams riding four-game losing streaks, regardless of where the value is in the line.
Let's turn to our panel of Vegas handicappers for an ATS pick on the game.
New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons
Spread: Opened Saints minus-7; now Saints minus-9
Total: Opened 53; still 53
1dEric D. Williams