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Disappointing NFC South Teams Play for Pride in Week 16

Matt Ryan

This has not been a fun football season as a Falcons fan. For a team that was as close as one can get to a Super Bowl victory just two years ago, they’ve turned into one of the most frustrating and disappointing teams to watch in the NFL. As a diehard Dirty Bird myself, every underachieving season they have makes the Super Bowl loss hurt that much more.

This weekend, they face the Carolina Panthers, who aren’t mathematically eliminated from the playoffs yet, but their odds of making it in are close to nil after losing to the Saints on Monday night.

The Panthers have opened as 3-point favorites at home, but the line flipped after it was announced that Cam Newton is out for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury. The Falcons are now 3.5-point favorites with the total at 43.5.

Shark Bites
  • The Falcons are 5-1 SU and ATS in their last six games vs the Panthers.
  • The Falcons are 11-4 SU and 9-6 ATS in their last 15 games vs divisional opponents.
  • The Panthers are 12-2 SU in their last 14 games at home vs teams with losing records.

Falcons vs Panthers Game Center

My Best Bet: Falcons to cover the spread

I’ve had a terrible time betting on my Falcons this season, but this is a line that I can’t resist. I made my bet on Tuesday when the Falcons were +3, but I wrote in here that I wasn't confident Cam Newton would be playing and I turned out to be correct. Newton has now been declared out for the rest of the season. If you watched the Monday night game against the Saints, it was pretty clear that his shoulder issue is more serious than Carolina originally has let on. He kept his throws short, and his throwing motion looked ugly and uncomfortable any time he tried to put velocity on a ball. The Falcons are now 3.5-point favorites, and I still like them to cover. Taylor Heinicke is getting the start for Carolina. He has never thrown a pass in a regular season NFL game, so I don't think the Falcons will have an issue covering this spread.

The Falcons are coming off their most dominant win of the season, putting up a season-high 40 points against the Cardinals. It was one of the few times this season that their offense looked in sync. The Falcons may have nothing but pride to play for this weekend, but they’re up against a banged-up team that has trended in the wrong direction for weeks.

Falcons offense is still dangerous

Their record doesn’t reflect it and their play-calling is questionable at best, but the Falcons offense is still among the best in the league. Quarterback Matt Ryan sits third in the NFL in passing yards per game, with an impressive 30 touchdown passes and only six interceptions. He also has the fifth-best QB rating at 107.6.

Atlanta also boasts the NFL’s leader in receiving yards, Julio Jones. Jones is the only wide receiver in the league to be averaging over 100 yards per game. He’s currently averaging 107.9 yards per contest, which is an astounding 13 yards more than the next closest receiver, Mike Evans with 94.9. After struggling to find the end zone early in the season, he has caught three touchdowns in the past two weeks to bring his season total to six.

The Panthers pass defense isn’t anything to write home about. They sit in the bottom 12 in every important pass-defense statistic. Opposing quarterbacks finish with an average QB rating of 99.3 when playing against the Panthers, which is seventh-last in the league. I expect Matt Ryan to have a successful game through the air. He finished 23 of 28 for 272 yards, two TDs and one INT in their Week 2 win against Carolina.

Panthers rush attack may cause headaches for Atlanta

My biggest worry in backing the Falcons in this game is the Carolina ground attack. They lead the league in yards per carry, averaging an astounding 5.3 yards per rush attempt. Pair that with jack-of-all-trades Christian McCaffrey and I could be setting myself up for another heartbreak.

Despite giving up 4.9 yards per carry, I think the Falcons will be able to load up the box and game-plan effectively in stopping the run now that Cam Newton has been ruled out for the rest of the season. Not having a duel-threat QB behind center also eases the mind of the defense.

My take on the total

After opening at 47, the total has dropped down to 43.5 since Cam Newton was declared out for the season and Taylor Heinicke would be taking his spot behind center.

I think this line is exactly where it probably should be, so I wouldn't recommend betting on the total at this point. If I had to choose which way to lean though, I'd lean towards the OVER. McCaffery should still be able to produce and I expect Atlanta's offense to be on point for the second straight week.