The Atlanta Falcons were a team in some level of transition during the off-season. They had finally parted ways with quarterback Matt Ryan and had come off a discouraging season that was lowlighted by injuries.
The speculation was that head coach Arthur Smith might not last the season. And they were certainly a longshot to win the NFC South, according to BetOnline. They are currently listed at +300, even though they are tied for the division lead with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Smith, who is using Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota in the quarterback slot, has found their groove with the run game, something he had previously done with great success as the Tennessee Titans’ offensive coordinator.
Now the Falcons are a surprising 4-5 (6-3 against the points) as they head into their second meeting of the season with the Carolina Panthers, which takes place at 8:20 PM ET at Bank Of America Stadium in Charlotte.
The Panthers are 2-7 (3-6 ATS), but they were almost ready to stamp themselves as an unlikely contender in the NFC South. But eleven days ago, they found a way to lose in Atlanta when DJ Moore, after having hauled in a last-second Hail Mary by PJ Walker, took his helmet off during an end zone celebration. When that happens in the NFL, that’s a 15-yard penalty, and it moved the winning extra point back to 48 yards. Eddy Piniero pulled that extra point left and did the same with a field goal in overtime. Of course, Atlanta went down and hit a field goal after that.
The next week, disaster struck a disheartened Carolina team as they laid down and rolled over against the Cincinnati Bengals, allowing Joe Mixon to run wild and doing nothing on offense until the outcome was long decided. They were behind by scores of 35-0 and 42-7, then added two garbage TD’s to make the score look closer than it was.
They have already fired head coach Matt Rhule and traded Christian McCaffrey and Robbie Anderson. They have fired four assistant coaches in the last few weeks. Walker, forced into starting at quarterback with injuries to Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold, went 3-of-10 for nine and had two INT’s, then was benched in favor of Mayfield, who got the garbage TD’s and was rewarded with a seat on the bench again, as interim head coach Steve Wilks didn’t want to make a change during this short week.
In the odds for NFL Thursday Night Football, as they are posted at BetOnline, the Falcons are laying points:-
Atlanta Falcons -2.5
Carolina Panthers +2.5
Over 42.5 Points -105
Under 42.5 Points -115
With 163 yards a game, the Falcons are the NFL’s fourth most productive rushing team. Mariota still runs a bit (304 yards), and Tyler Allgeier (4.5 ypc) had 99 yards against the L.A. Chargers last week. Atlanta had 201 yards on the ground, and they ran the ball 60% of the time. That is not unusual; this team has kept the ball on the ground for almost 58% of its plays from scrimmage.
With the return of Cordarelle Patterson from an injury, we can expect that this ground attack could be even more dynamic, showing a little bit of fluctuation in the odds at a few top NFL betting sites.
Only one team in the NFL (Detroit) has surrendered more yards per game than the Falcons, and without AJ Terrell, there has been a hole in the secondary. But the question before us is whether the Panthers are in any kind of position to exploit that fully. It would seem that the rest of the schedule has been dedicated to positioning Carolina to find a “quarterback of the future.”
Neither Mayfield nor Sam Darnold appears to be an answer. And it would be hard for one to imagine Walker as a long-time NFL starter. Matt Corral, drafted out of Ole Miss, is out for the season after Lisfranc surgery. But then there is the NFL Draft if Carolina can pick high enough (wink, wink).
We’re going to bank on the reliability of the Atlanta ground game here when we lay the points.
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