A key NFC South clash takes place Sunday afternoon as the inconsistent Carolina Panthers travel to Atlanta to take on one of the league’s best teams in the Falcons. Last season, the Falcons won both games against the Panthers with relative ease and with the talent-gap only widening since, it won’t be an easy Sunday for Carolina in the Georgia Dome.
The Falcons look like they’ve already secured the divisional crown in the NFC South and are about as complete a team as there is in football at the moment. Many people are already talking the Super Bowl for Matt Ryan’s squad and the hype has been fully warranted thus far. Atlanta is coming off perhaps their most impressive outing of the season in Week 3 when they travelled across the country to easily dispose of a capable Chargers squad. If the Falcons defense maintains their steady play, Atlanta won’t have any issues with a maddeningly inconsistent Carolina team.
Meanwhile the Panthers enter in quite the opposite fashion to Atlanta, coming off one of their more disappointing results in recent memory. One factor working in their favour though is they’ve had an extra-long layoff to recover and prepare for the Falcons. However with the way Atlanta’s playing currently, it may not matter. Quarterback Cam Newton has been facing a ton of criticism of late and he might be facing more if his performance against the Falcons doesn’t improve. Last season, the former first overall pick had his worst games against Atlanta. Newton combined to throw for 5 picks in those two contests, while registering quarterback ratings of 44.6 and 67.9 respectively. For Carolina to have any success Sunday, they’ll need their best player to be at his very best.
Panthers vs. Falcons Spread & Betting Odds:
Carolina Panthers +7 (-110)
@ Atlanta Falcons -7 (-110)
Over 48.5 (-110)
Under 48.5 (-110)
Betting odds taken from Bovada.lv
Panthers vs. Falcons Pick:
The Falcons are simply rolling entering this contest. Currently averaging 31.3 points per game, while their defense leads the NFL in takeaways with 11 on the year. Their biggest task this week will be neutralizing a fired up Cam Newton. Though Atlanta has had success in the past against the former Auburn Tiger, Newton is the kind of athlete who has the ability to take over any game at will. If the Falcons can get enough outside pressure and force him to stay in the pocket, it should be a very long day for the Panthers’ offense.
Look for Atlanta’s outside linebackers Stephen Nicholas and Sean Weatherspoon to contain Newton on Sunday with great outside rushing. Newton is a master at finding seams and extending plays, but Atlanta’s revamped defense is playing with confidence with new coordinator Mike Nolan at the helm. Additionally, Atlanta has proven to be incredibly opportunistic at securing turnovers so far in 2012. With Newton throwing picks the way he has of late, don’t be stunned if Atlanta forces yet another multi-turnover game Sunday afternoon.
Carolina will get some relief on the injury front before this contest as key running back Jonathan Stewart should return from injury. Stewart’s a powerful back and his style could have some success a susceptible front-seven of the Falcons. Atlanta’s top pass rusher John Abraham was arrested on Monday night, and while he’s expected to play, it could give his side an unnecessary distraction.
On the other side of the football, expect Atlanta to destroy Carolina’s defense. Matt Ryan is the best quarterback in football right now and the weapons at his disposal are ridiculous. Julio Jones and Roddy White will feel like they’re playing against college defenders as they take on one of the NFL’s worst secondaries. Rookie cornerback Josh Norman has been forced into a starting role for Carolina and has been routinely beaten by defenders. Expect the Falcons to move the ball with ease Sunday afternoon, overwhelming a Panthers defense that may be without linebacker Jon Beason who is listed as questionable.
While the Panthers possess potential and should one day grow into a good NFL team, it’s still too early for it to happen in Week 4. Though they’re not as bad as they showed against the Giants in Week 3, their defense combined with Newton’s inconsistencies will prevent this contest from being a close one. The Falcons are a complete team in every sense of the word, and expect another big showing from their talented squad. Take Atlanta at home, laying only a touchdown.
PICK = Falcons -7 (-110)