The Atlanta Falcons will travel to Bank of America Stadium for a 1:00 EST start with the Carolina Panthers. The Falcons are coming into this one with the NFC South title already in their back pocket. After several seasons with plenty of hope end in disappointment, this is the Falcons best chance at making it to the Super Bowl. At 11-1, they possess the best record in the NFL, and have one of the most balanced teams in the league. All of it will be for nothing if they fail to make any noise in the playoffs; they have been in this position before and couldn’t take a giant step forward. The Falcons have always been a popular pick to be the last team standing, but always hit a wall. They are one of the best home teams in the NFL, so capturing the AFC South crown was an important step to making it to the Super Bowl. At first glance, it seems like their opponent, the Carolina Panthers, have had a miserable season. However, they have fought tooth and nails in most games this season, falling a hair short in many. One of those included a heart breaking 30-28 loss to the Falcons in week 4.
The Panthers’ offense goes with quarterback Cam Newton. If Newton is on point, then this offense has the potential to roll. If he comes out flat, then things may get a little ugly. Newton hasn’t had a downright awful season, but many expected him to take a giant leap forward. Teams have had more time to prepare and read film of Newton, which had resulted in a tougher road. While the perception is that Newton has taken a giant step backwards, he actually has improved his QB rating by a point. He has passed for 2933 yards with 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, also chipping in with 524 yards on the ground with 6 touchdowns. Newton had the beneficiary of relying on talented running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart last season, but this year, Stewart has been banged up for quite some time and Williams has had only rushed for a 3.5 average. The offense ranks 18th in terms of total offense, with the passing game at 16th and rushing attack 16th as well.
The offense is average as they get, but the defense had a pretty good season. Definitely nothing to be ashamed of, as they are currently the 14th best defense in the NFL. They are most notably good at shutting down passing games, filing in the 8th spot, allowing only 218 yards a game. The Panthers can be exploited on the ground by a good running game considering they are the 25th best defense at stopping the run. Running back for the Falcons, Michael Turner, had a much needed productive game last week, but it was against the hapless Saints defense. We will see if he can follow it up in week 14 on the road against the Panthers.
Statistically speaking, the Falcons have one of the best offenses the NFL has to offer. With Matt Ryan at the helm, flanked by receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White, Ryan and the Falcons are a feared bunch. If Michael Turner can get it going on the ground, then this offense will be nearly impossible to stop under the dome in Atlanta. The offense scores 26.4 points a game, 9th. The passing game is 4th, so the running game has held the Falcons back considerably. Turner is listed as questionable, so it will be a big blow if he isn’t able to suit up.
The defense is currently in a state of just getting healthy for the postseason. With both safeties, Asante Samuel and William Moore questionable, the Falcons are going to be extra cautious in this one. They are at a point in the season with the AFC South wrapped up, that it is time to start thinking health for the next level. The Falcons are one of the leagues best in limiting points, allowing only 19.1 a game. They do surrender some yardage, 18th in the NFL, but it’s all about points given up at the end of the day and the Falcons are most definitely good in that respect.
Falcons vs. Panthers Spread and Betting Odds:
Atlanta Falcons -3.5 (-110)
@ Carolina Panthers +3.5 (-110)
Over 48 (-110)
Under 48 (-110)
Betting odds taken from Bovada.lv
Falcons vs. Panthers Pick:
The Falcons have their minds on going deep into the playoffs after clinching the AFC South title last week. I think this may be a throwaway week of sorts for the Falcons. A trap game if you will. While the Panthers record indicates that they are a terrible team, it isn’t completely true. The Panthers the second most difficult strength of schedule in the league, and have played the majority of those teams close. Most of their games came down to the last quarter without a clear winner until the clock read 00:00. In the same token, the Falcons have one of the easiest schedules in the NFL and have taken advantage of that. It hasn’t been easy, though, they have played in nail biters. They still don’t have a clear, dominating runaway victory on the year.
I think this game is all about getting healthy for the Falcons. Their defense needs some much needed rest, especially the secondary. If they go into the playoffs healthy, they have a legitimate shot at making it to the Super Bowl. If not, it could be another long offseason for the Falcons. I think the Panthers catch the Falcons “hung over” in week 14. Both teams have played in close contests all year and I don’t see that changing here. Give me the 3 and a hook with the Panthers at home.
PICK = Panthers +3.5