The 6-7 Atlanta Falcons (+9.5) have found a way to stay close to .500 and remain in the thick of the playoff race, despite having an erratic season under first year head coach Arthur Smith. Meanwhile, the San Francisco 49ers (-9.5) are third in the NFC West, but at 7-6, they currently hold the 6th seed in the playoff race. This game is important to both clubs if they want to be playing in mid-January.
The Falcons offense has been a roller coaster this year. Losing Calvin Ridley has exposed their poor depth at wide receiver, but they also made one of the best free agent signings of the season by bringing on offensive weapon Cordarelle Patterson. His productivity has shocked everyone and he already has over 1,000 yards from scrimmage.
Rookie tight end Kyle Pitts has shown his incredible ability, but teams are regularly selling out to stop him now. Matt Ryan has also had an up and down season. He’s looked brilliant at times and quite poor in others. A good bit of the team’s success depends on the offensive line. They’ve steadily improved over the season and have looked quite good in the running game the last 3 weeks. Their pass blocking is still hit or miss.
Kyle Shanahan’s offenses are regularly expected to be some of the best in the NFL and the 49ers have certainly had their share of high scoring games. They rank 13th in scoring, 14th in passing yards and 8th in rushing yards. They’re not a dominant unit, but they are efficient. The offensive line is bolstered by veterans Trent Williams and Alex Mack, who are both in their mid-30s but playing at a high level. While it’s a certainty the team will move on from QB Jimmy Garoppolo in 2022, he’s been serviceable as the starter while the team prepares Trey Lance to take over next year. He has two elite weapons to throw to in Deebo Samuel and George Kittle and there’s every reason to believe these guys will do some damage.
That 49ers offense will face the worst pass rushing unit in the league on Sunday. The Falcons familiar story of fielding a bad defense has continued under veteran DC Dean Pees, though this is group has improved in recent weeks. The emergence of A.J. Terrell as a true top-tier corner has helped ease some of that pain. The unit is 28th in points allowed, dead last in sacks with just 16 and 27th in passer rating allowed. The one bright spot? They’re currently 13th in yards per carry.
The San Francisco defense has a stout defensive front. Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead can get to the quarterback while D.J. Jones helps to limit the run. They are not as talented at corner but linebacker and safety are bolstered by guys like Fred Warner and Jimmie Ward. On the year, the unit is 20th in points allowed, 9th in sacks with 33 and 25th in passer rating allowed. They’re 17th in yards per carry, so Atlanta may look to run the ball frequently to stymie the pass rush.
The 49ers may not be the top-tier offense everyone expects, but they are always capable of doing some damage. The Falcons defense will need to play at their absolute best to have any hope of slowing this unit down. As for Atlanta, their success needs to come on the ground or it could be a long day for Matt Ryan in the pocket.
The Falcons are underdogs on the road as the DraftKings Sportbook has them losing by nearly double digits.
Score prediction: Falcons 21, 49ers 28
Bold prediction: The Atlanta running game grabs two touchdowns and 150 yards.
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Falcons vs 49ers Week 15
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Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.