Carolina Panthers (1-2 SU, 1-2 ATS) vs. Atlanta Falcons (2-1 SU, 2-1 ATS)
Week 4 NFL
Date/Time: Sunday, October 2, 2016 at 1PM EST
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Georgia
By Loot, NFL Football Handicapper, Lootmeister.com
Betting Odds: CAR -3/ATL +3
Over/Under Total: 50.5
The Carolina Panthers come to the Georgia Dome to face the Atlanta Falcons in Sunday NFC South action. This is not the gimme some thought it would be before the season began. And not many would think it would be ATL who is the 2-1 team, while the defending conference champion Panthers are 1-2, but that's the case. At home in Sunday, they were beaten badly by the Minnesota Vikings and would love to get back to the business of winning this week against a tough Falcons bunch that will get a boost from being at home at 2-1 with something for the ATL faithful to get fired up about.
Carolina's week one loss to the Broncos was a forgivable setback, as the start of the season almost seemed to catch them off-guard. They appeared to rediscover their form in week two with a 46-27 win over the 49ers at home. But after getting off to a 10-0 lead over the Vikings in the first quarter, the league's highest-scoring offense from last season was held scoreless for the next three quarters-plus, with the Vikings winning, 22-10. Cam Newton was uncharacteristically inaccurate, tossing three picks and no touchdowns through the air. He did run for one, but again, they were left grasping for straws after a promising first quarter.
At the same time, the Denver and the Minnesota defenses are going to make a lot of offenses look foolish this season. Atlanta's defense would seem to be a unit that this Carolina offense can get back on the right track against. Though it didn't manifest on Sunday, the weapons on this offense are deep indeed. Kelvin Benjamin has gotten off to a good start, with TE Greg Olsen almost always a factor. Jonathan Stewart being out doesn't help the versatility of the offense, with the running duties now in the hands of Cameron Artis-Payne and Fozzy Whitaker. And Newton hurt his ankle on Sunday, which isn't a positive development. Regardless, look for this offense to sense some urgency and get on the move on Sunday.
The Carolina defense has been a little off their best form and that could also change, as they are tremendous across all phases. Atlanta will have to contain a tough line with Charles Johnson, Kony Ealy, Star Lotulelei, and Kawann Short. The middle is patrolled by Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis—two of the best in the business. And they're giving up an average of just 183 yards per game through the air, with James Bradberry, Bene Benwickere, Tre Boston, and Kurt Coleman getting it done. Look for more of their playmaking ability to unfold over the next couple weeks.
The Falcons looked really good on MNF against a Saints defense that wasn't getting much right. Without really utilizing their star receiver Julio Jones who was dealing with a sore calf, they were able to create a lot of offense, showcasing their full cast of players. QB Matt Ryan is still a handful and a cool veteran who remains a threat. Devonta Freeman looked as good as he had in a while, leading the team in both rushing and receiving on Monday with 152 yards rushing and 5 catches, including a TD score. Second-year back Tevin Coleman found the end zone three times. The Atlanta run-game averaged 7 yards a run. Ryan threw for two touchdowns, with Justin Hardy catching the other one. In addition to Jones, there are a lot of role players in this aerial attack, as the ATL offense is one that can get you in any number of ways.
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Even in their two wins, the Atlanta defense has had its rocky moments in all three games this season, giving up 31, 28, and 32 points in successive games. Opposing quarterbacks are having good days against this group and they're not great against the run, either. Drew Brees went for 376 yards on Sunday and the pass-defense will need to find answers. Still, we see coach Dan Quinn's expertise coming through on this side of the ball, with key plays at key times, as he tries to cultivate a playmaking "D." But against a 1-2 Carolina team that will be pumped-up to not go 1-3, this defense might get stretched to its limits.
Atlanta is a tricky team because when things are going well, they can get rolling. We remember what happened last season, when a promising start suddenly fell to pieces. That defense is tenuous and when the offense is rolling, their weakness can be camouflaged to some point, but it's a part of the team that looms as a constant threat to undermine the entire Atlanta effort. Against an urgent Carolina bunch on Sunday, that will be too much to overcome. I'm taking the Panthers.
Loot's Prediction to Cover the Point Spread: I'm betting on the Carolina Panthers minus 3 points. Bet the Carolina vs. Atlanta game for FREE by taking advantage of a massive 100% sign-up bonus on your first deposit of $100 to $500 at GTBets!