The Spread and Total
Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons (-3.5, O/U 45), courtesy of bovada.eu
Both teams have something to play for as these divisional rivals meet to close out the regular season. Atlanta reaches the playoffs with a win. If the Falcons lose and Seattle beats Arizona, Atlanta’s season is over. Carolina has already secured a postseason berth, but if they beat the Falcons and the Saints lose to Tampa Bay, the Panthers will win the AFC South and earn a playoff home game. If Carolina wins, the Bucs beat New Orleans, the Rams fall to the 49ers, and the Bears get by the Vikings, the Panthers would earn the no. 2 seed and a first-round bye.
Carolina Panthers: 11-4 SU (9-6 ATS); 2nd NFC South
Atlanta Falcons: 9-6 SU (6-9 ATS); 3rd NFC South
Key Injuries and Absences
S Kurt Coleman (ankle), questionable; CB LaDarius Gunter (illness), questionable; G Trai Turner (concussion), questionable.
TE Levine Toilolo (knee), out; C Alex Mack (calf), questionable.
- Nov. 5, 2017 (Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte): Carolina 20, Atlanta 17
- Dec. 24, 2016 (Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte): Atlanta 33, Carolina 16
- Oct. 2, 2016 (Georgia Dome, Atlanta): Atlanta 48, Carolina 33
- Dec 27, 2015 (Georgia Dome, Atlanta): Atlanta 20, Carolina 13
- Dec 13, 2015 (Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte): Carolina 38, Atlanta 0
Significant Betting Trends
- Four straight Falcons games, and 10 of 15 this season, have gone under the total
- Atlanta is 5-8 against the spread as a favorite this season. They are 2-4 ATS as a favorite of 3.5-6.5 points.
- Against current playoff teams, Atlanta is 1-4 overall and against the number.
- Just one of the last six meetings between these teams has been decided by fewer than seven points.
- Carolina’s 22-19 win over Tampa Bay in Week 16 snapped a string of five straight overs. Carolina has gone over nine times during the past 13 games.
- As an underdog this season, the Panthers are 5-1 straight up and against the spread. Against current playoff teams, Carolina is 3-3 overall and ATS.
The NFC South will have at least two playoff teams, New Orleans and Carolina, while the defending conference champion Falcons must beat the Panthers or get help to have an opportunity to defend their crown. The Panthers won their earlier matchup with Atlanta this year in Charlotte. After trailing 10-0, Carolina scored 20 straight points and held on for a 20-17 victory.
The Panthers won the first game despite getting out-gained (355-330), committing more turnovers (2-1), and struggling in the red zone (2/4). The difference in the contest was two Carolina touchdowns during the final three minutes of the first half, and a rushing attack that produced over 200 yards on the ground. Atlanta’s offense was one-dimensional. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan threw for over three bills, but the running game managed just 53 yards.
Ryan, last year’s league MVP, has been more of the problem than the answer recently. Over his past four games, he has thrown for three touchdowns and four interceptions while averaging under 225 yards a game in the air, and completing less than 57-percent of his throws. Ryan’s 18 touchdown passes this season rank 18th in the NFL, and are 20 fewer than he ended up with last season.
Had the Falcons beaten New Orleans last week, this game would be for the division title. Atlanta fell 23-13, despite having plenty of opportunities: they were stopped twice inside the Saints’ five-yard line. The Falcons’ defense did its part, holding New Orleans to 315 yards of offense and an 0/2 mark in the red zone; the dynamic running back duo of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara managed just 76 yards on the ground. Atlanta’s tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman was even worse, though, running for 48 yards on the day.
The Falcons loss last week was just their second setback during the second half of the season. After going 4-4 to begin the slate, with notable wins over the Packers and Lions, Atlanta had won five of six before Sunday’s letdown. During that stretch, they recorded impressive wins over the Cowboys, Seahawks, and Saints.
The Falcons lose when their offense struggles. Atlanta has scored 17 points or fewer in each of their six setbacks and averaged 13.3 points in those games. Meanwhile, they’ve scored 20-plus in all of their wins and averaged 27.9 points a game.
Recently the Panthers’ offense has been rolling. During a three-game winning streak, Carolina has scored 28 points per game. Interestingly, before Sunday’s 22-19 win over the Bucs, they had allowed 20 points or more in five consecutive.
Tampa Bay led the Panthers for much of the second-half last week. Cam Newton’s touchdown run on a bad snap with 35 seconds left proved to be the game-winning score. The only other Carolina touchdown was a 103-yard kickoff return by Damiere Byrd. The Bucs out-gained the Panthers 392-255, and limited Newton to just 140 yards in the air. Both teams were miserable in the red zone, with Tampa Bay going 1/6, and the Panthers going 1/5. The Panthers can, realistically, thank three Tampa turnovers for the win.
Though Carolina did not produce an A-effort against Tampa Bay, they won, and since a 31-21 loss to the Saints a month ago, Carolina has beaten the Vikings, Packers, and Bucs, albeit each in Charlotte. Carolina’s lone road win against a likely playoff team came in Week 3 against New England.
Newton is the Panthers’ top offensive player, both passing and running the ball. During the current win streak, he has rushed at least 11 times and surpassed 50 yards on the ground in each game, bringing Carolina’s record to 4-1 this year when Newton gets more than 10 carries. When the Panthers went to the Super Bowl in 2015, they were 8-0 when Newton rushed at least 10 times in a game (including playoffs). Newton has also recently cut down on mistakes. After throwing 11 interceptions during the first eight weeks of the season, he has just two over the last seven games.
On special teams, Atlanta is the best kick-return team in the NFL while the Panthers are in the middle of the pack. The Falcons are a decent punt-return squad while Carolina is towards the bottom. Both teams have adequate place kickers and puntersgames are fairly even.
Though the Falcons have more on the line and have home-field advantage, the spread doesn’t make a lot of sense. These are two evenly matched teams. Why is the number not precisely three? Carolina has the more impressive body of work this season, and since Newton has started running more frequently, the Panthers have looked good.
As for the total, it is reasonable to think Atlanta scores at least 20 points seeing as how Carolina, even in victories, usually yields in that neighborhood. Each of these squads score in the high 20’s when they win. Something like 28-24 or 27-23 would result in an over. Carolina and the over is the call.
Pick: Panthers (+3.5) and OVER (45)