Denver @ Atlanta: 50% bonus
The second week of NFL action will conclude this evening as the Denver Broncos travel to the Atlanta Falcons. Peyton Manning threw for 253 yards and two touchdowns in his comeback game, and with regular football should improve even further.
The Falcon’s QB, Matt Ryan, has been described as the apprentice in the build up to the game, but he led Atlanta to a big 40-24 win over slow starting Kansas last weekend and looks in good shape. With both quarter backs in good form this match might not be settled in the air but rather come down to the mistakes the QB’s don’t make.
This is an assessment which should favour the Broncos and their potentially more balanced offense. Running back Willis McGahee could be the game-changer here, a dynamic crease-breaker with third-down dependability. Expect McGahee to warm up considerably from a tepid return of 64 yards from 16 carries in Week One, assisted on occasion by Lance Ball. This, of course, should in turn open up Manning’s passing lanes. I’d back McGahee to be first touchdown scorer tonight; back him at +600 here.
The Falcons, however, appear to have departed from their trademark run-first-pass-later strategy. That puts a lot of pressure on Ryan’s back and his receivers. So, even conceding a mere field-goal, I can’t see Atlanta cutting free of the conventional handicap. Especially when you consider that their pivotal corner, Brent Grimes, is on the sick list this week.
The broader stats and trends also appear encouraging for Denver fans. The Broncos have prevailed in seven of last eight in this head-to-head, admittedly a series which stretches back before 2000. But more crucially, they have also won the last four contests played in Atlanta. And then there’s Manning who, true to reputation, invariably comes alive under the Monday lights; he boasts an 11-3 record when the nation’s cameras fix their gaze on his team.
Denver should edge it tonight and it will be another step along the rocky road to recovery for Peyton. That journey should be facilitated by a more productive running game, led by McGahee. I see Denver winning by over 3 points on the handicap, available at +105.