The New England Patriots’ Week 9 win against the Carolina Panthers came at a cost, with running backs Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson going down with concussions. While Stevenson was cleared to return for the following week’s contest versus the Cleveland Browns, Harris remained sidelined until this week.
However, he was back on the practice fields on Tuesday and after being removed from the injury report one day later is good to go for the Thursday Nighter in Atlanta. The question is how effective Harris will be against the Falcons, and whether or not the Patriots trust him to resume his role as the number one option in the backfield?
Using our crystal ball as well as the numbers provided by DraftKings Sportsbook let’s find out what to expect out of the third-year man.
RB Damien Harris: O/U 52.5 rushing yards
Harris’ over/under has been set at 52.5 rushing yards, and at first glance it seems likely he will hit that number. After all, he has been able to gain at least that amount of yardage in six of his nine games so far this year.
However, it will not be as easy as it looks like. Atlanta’s defense, after all, is stout against the run and not so much versus the pass. Considering that and two other factors — Harris’ stint in the NFL concussion protocol plus Rhamondre Stevenson’s recent emergence — the Patriots might prefer to limit his exposure.
New England should be able to move the football fairly well versus the Falcons, but seeing Harris finish with fewer than 53 rushing yards would not be all that surprising.
QB Mac Jones: O/U 251.5 passing yards
Mac Jones has thrown for over 251.5 yards only four times this season, and failed to hit the mark in the last two weeks. Based on Atlanta’s defensive weaknesses against the pass mentioned above, it would not be a surprise if New England gave him plenty of opportunities to move the ball with his right arm.
After all, the Falcons defense, in a way, is the exact opposite of the Panthers’ and Browns’: it is vulnerable in the passing game, lacks a strong pass rush, and is clearly better at the defending run. Add it all and the over appears to be a very achievable goal.
TE Hunter Henry: O/U 3.5 receptions
The Patriots’ receiving touchdowns leader with seven such scores, Hunter Henry’s reception numbers are not quite that impressive: he has 31 catches on his 2021 résumé for an average of 3.1 per game. But even with Jonnu Smith possibly returning to the lineup, the game against Atlanta should present an opportunity for Henry to add some more catches.
The Falcons defense, after all, is pretty average when it comes to defending tight ends: it is ranked 17th in DVOA versus the position and is seeing an average of 6.5 targets per game. Henry should get his opportunities to finish with four or more receptions.
WR Jakobi Meyers: O/U 20.5 yards longest reception
Jakobi Meyers has caught 50 passes so far this season, but only six of them have gone for more than 20.5 yards. Natural instinct therefore says that the under should be the way to go here. That said, the Falcons’ weaknesses against the pass — they are ranked only 29th in EPA (0.227) and 30th in DVOA (27.7%) — should create some opportunities for Meyers.
That said, the Patriots are not using him as a deep-field attacker all that much. While the Falcons defense might change this, it appears the under might be the better play in this case.
S Adrian Phillips: O/U 4.5 combined tackles
In five of his 10 games so far this season, Adrian Phillips hit the over on 4.5 tackles. The common thread in all of those contests? The Patriots were worried more about the running than the passing game.
Against Atlanta, that will not be the case: the Falcons field a Pro Bowl quarterback in Matt Ryan and an outstanding young tight end in Kyle Pitts. While that might lead to Phillips registering more than 4.5 combined solo and assisted tackles, the under is probably the safer bet here.