Atlanta Falcons (9-5 SU, 9-5 ATS) vs. Carolina Panthers (6-8 SU, 5-7-2 ATS)
NFL Week 16
Date/Time: Saturday December 24th, 1:00 PM (EST) 2016
Where: Bank of America Stadium Charlotte, N.C.
by Jay, NFL Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: ATL –2.5/CAR +2.5
Over/Under Total: 52
The Carolina Panthers spoiled the Washington Redskins playoff hopes on Monday night with a somewhat surprising 26-15 victory in Landover. The win was the Panthers 2nd straight as they moved to 6-8 SU on the season. It was also the 2nd straight week Carolina's improving defense shut down a high powered offense going back to their 28-16 victory over San Diego. Now the reemerging Panthers will host one of their NFC South Division rivals this Saturday when they meet the Atlanta Falcons at Bank of America Stadium.
The 9-5 SU Falcons will be looking to score their 3rd straight win this week which would clinch a playoff berth. Atlanta could also take down the NFC South with a victory and a Tampa Bay loss. The Falcons are coming off two straight convincing victories over the Rams and 49ers. However those two teams have just 5 wins combined on the season and things should get tougher this Saturday against a Carolina team that is starting to play like the Panthers team that we witnessed last year. Therefore, this should be a pretty good football game which is evident by the opening odds which favors the Falcons by just 2.5 points with a lofty total of 52.
Atlanta leads the NFL in offense averaging a whopping 33.5 points per game. It has been an incredible season for the entire offense. Quarterback Matt Ryan has posted incredible numbers with 4,336 yards with 32 scores and just 7 picks. Running back Devonta Freeman is closing in on 1,000 yards. Meanwhile star WR Julio Jones has corralled 73 passes for 1,253 yards and 5 touchdowns despite battling turf toe in recent weeks. Jones actually missed last week's victory over San Fran but has returned to practice this week which indicates he should be active on Saturday. Having Jones back will be very important considering Carolina's biggest weakness on defense is in their secondary.
Even with improved play from the defense, the Panthers still do not have anyone that can match-up with Jones if he is near 100%. If you remember, this is the same Panthers defense that both Ryan and Jones torched earlier this season in a 48-33 beatdown. Ryan threw for over 500 yards with 4 scores and Jones caught 12 passes for 300 yards which were both franchise records. Obviously, I don't think we can expect those types of numbers again this week but it does not erase the fact Jones remains a huge problem for this Panthers defense.
The good news for Panthers fans is that their defense has been playing much better in recent weeks which is encouraging. The defense is also expected to get linebacker Luke Kuechly back who has been cleared to play after missing several weeks with a concussion. If Kuechly's return holds up, the Panthers defense has a much better chance to extract revenge this week to make up for that dreadful performance in Atlanta earlier this year.
I expect the Panthers to have a much better defensive effort this Saturday based on the way they have played in recent weeks. However, they still need help from the offense to get this victory. Running back Jonathan Stewart was excellent in Monday night's victory over Washington. Stewart rumbled for 132 yards on 25 carries and will now get the chance to take aim at one of the worst rush defenses in the league. The Falcons sport a 28th place DVOA ranking against the run and they have given up twice as many touchdowns on the road as compared to playing at home. Therefore, this should be another good opportunity for Stewart to have a good game.
With that being said, I still worry that the Panthers will not have enough firepower to pull out this victory. The reason I have those doubts is because of Cam Newton. I don't think people understand just how bad Cam has struggled in recent weeks. So let me break it down very quickly, Newton has completed just 73 of 158 (46.2%) passing in his last 5 games. Newton has been able to toss 7 scores compared to just 2 picks during that stretch but he has still been very inconsistent. Therefore it will be interesting to see if Cam can get back on track in this game, because most of the Panthers' receiving corps especially tight end Greg Olsen will all be in plus matchups.
Jay's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: The Falcons have been very good against the number with a 9-5 ATS mark this season and I think they are the play in this game again. They are simply the better team and I don't trust the Panthers consistency on offense. The Falcons are also 7-1 ATS in their last 8 games on the road. Take ATL –2.5
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