A key NFC South showdown takes place Sunday as Cam Newton and his Panthers head to Atlanta to take on an improved Falcons squad.
Oddly, Atlanta enters this match-up with the better record (2-1 vs. Carolina’s 1-2), and they now have a real opportunity to take a two-game lead in the division standings over the prohibitive favourites. It’s been a tough go of things for Newton and his Panthers. After blowing Week 1 vs. Denver, Newton has been getting hit hard in recent weeks and the offense hasn’t clicked like we saw in 2015. Kelvin Benjamin was held without a catch in Week 3, something that has to change if Carolina wants to get back on track this season.
For the Falcons, they’re fresh off a dominant performance on Monday Night Football against another divisional rival, the Saints. Atlanta looked amazing on the road in that game, controlling virtually every aspect. Matt Ryan has taken that next step and is playing unbelievable entering Week 4. This promises to be a match-up filled with intrigue and potential playoff implications. It should be an absolutely raucous atmosphere with the Falcons at home against the defending NFC champs, so read on below for a complete game breakdown, analysis, and an official betting selection for Falcons/Panthers.
Panthers vs. Falcons Betting Odds:
Carolina Panthers -3 (-110)
@ Atlanta Falcons +3 (-110)
Over 50 (-110)
Under 50 (-110)
Betting odds provided by Bovada.lv
Panthers vs. Falcons Pick:
Though it seems a tad surprising the Panthers enter this game with a 1-2 record, the way they’ve played so far in 2016 has been anything but impressive. They have had some big issues on both sides of the ball, and if they don’t rectify those, they’ll be watching the playoffs come January. For starters, their offensive line has been brutal and done an awful job of protecting Cam Newton. You’d think the Panthers would prioritize not having the MVP take vicious shots game-after-game, but they’ve shown no signs of slowing down opposing pass rushes. Both Denver and Minnesota got to Newton at will, and even though the Falcons don’t have the best pressure group, the holes are there to be exposed.
With Vic Beasley and Dwight Freeney tasked with getting to Newton, it may be difficult for the Falcons, but expect them to blitz to limit Newton’s ability to get out of the pocket. Even so, Newton still hasn’t seemed himself ever since he hurt his ankle against the Vikings. His mobility right now is in question and Atlanta might just be able to keep him in check on Sunday. Through the run game, don’t expect much either from Carolina. With Jonathan Stewart out once again, the options are limited for the Panthers. Cameron Artis-Payne and Fozzy Whittaker simply aren’t good enough to expose Atlanta on the ground. The Falcons are by no means a defensive juggernaut, but the Panthers are in a tough spot offensively right now. Look for Atlanta to use their rowdy home crowd to their advantage, and limit the Panthers significantly on Sunday.
On offense, Matty ‘Ice’ looks like he is back in his groove. With Josh Norman leaving, the Panthers’ secondary hasn’t been able to recover. Truthfully, I thought it’d be fine, but that just hasn’t materialized yet. The Panthers have faced mediocre QB’s at best so far, and going against Matt Ryan will really represent a step up in terms of class and ability. It remains to be seen if Carolina’s revamped secondary will be up to the task.
The biggest thing Norman leaving does, is it no longer gives Carolina anybody to blanket Julio Jones. Without a dominant pass rush either, Ryan should have just enough time and protection to find Julio with regularity on Sunday afternoon.
With Atlanta at home, they’re definitely catching the Panthers at a great time. Without a healthy Newton, and no Stewart, the Falcons have a golden opportunity here to take a healthy lead in the NFC South. The Panthers are inflated right now, with the general betting public still viewing them as the group that went 15-1 last year. They aren’t, and they won’t be getting anywhere close to that level given their current form. The Falcons are a sharp play for Sunday and it’s one I agree with. Look for them to cover and get the win against their divisional rivals.
PICK = Falcons +3 (-110)