Carolina Panthers (1-2 SU, 1-2 ATS) vs. Atlanta Falcons (3-0 SU, 3-0 ATS)
NFL Week 4
Date/Time: Sunday, September 30th, 2012, 1:00 p.m. EST
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Ga.
TV: FOX Network/DirecTV 704
by Badger, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: Car. +7.5/Atl. -7.5
Over/Under Total: 49
The Atlanta Falcons are one of three National Football League teams still undefeated this season and they will try and keep it that way on Sunday when they welcome Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers into the Georgia Dome for a clash of NFC South rivals on Fox.
So far the Falcons have run the table against the AFC West this season, beating the San Diego Chargers on the road last weekend in sunny California in convincing fashion, 27-3. Quarterback Matt Ryan threw three touchdown passes and the Falcons defense held the Chargers to just 280 yards of total offense to give them a victory over the Bolts.
With wins over Kansas City and Denver already, now the Falcons will turn their full attention away from the AFC West and onto their own division, where they can gain a full three-game advantage in the NFC South standings with a win over Newton and the Panthers thanks to the winless start of the New Orleans Saints and the early struggles of the Panthers and Buccaneers.
Carolina will be looking to earn a little respect back after a humiliating defeat at the hands of the New York Giants at home in primetime on Thursday Night last week, 36-7. Not much went right for the Panthers in the loss to the Giants, who were easily handled from the opening gun to the final whistle despite the Giants being down to backups and third stringers due to injury and a short week.
With 10 days to prepare, the Panthers will be rested and ready to get the bad taste out of their mouths from the Giants loss. It’s also a rivalry game, so you know the Carolina will be ready to try and stop Ryan and the Falcons offense that is putting an average of 31 points a game on the scoreboard (3rd in NFL).
With Atlanta’s hot start and Carolina’s primetime stinker fresh on the minds of the betting public, oddsmakers originally opened the game on Sunday with the Falcons as large 9-point favorites at home. But within hours of its initial release, sharp money came pouring in on the Panthers so much so that the point spread has dropped to minus -7.5 at most sportsbooks. It’s even down to minus -7 at a few of the properties in Las Vegas, so right now the number is all over the board.
The over/under total hasn’t had nearly the same amount of line movement, opening at 49.5 late on Sunday and dropping the hook to 49 at most sportsbooks on the Web, offshore and in Vegas.
When handicapping this game on the offensive side of the ball, the biggest key (and also the biggest question) is the Panthers running game. In their only win of the season the Panthers had over 200 yards on the ground, which allowed them to control the clock and the pace of the game. But the other two games they were stuffed at the line of scrimmage, so they need to find some balance to take pressure off of Newton.
Carolina has averaged just 96 yards rushing through three weeks (25th in NFL), while the Falcons defense is allowing 129 yards a game (24th), so it’s a classic “something has to break” situation that the Panther need to win to have a chance.
Something to keep an eye on as the week progresses is the status of Atlanta DE John Abraham. Abraham was arrested Monday for obstructing an officer, but considering the fact that Michael Turner was arrested for DUI last week and still played, I’d expect the Falcons to turn a blind eye to it all and play him anyway. Either way, the distractions are starting to mount in Atlanta, something that is never a good deal.
Atlanta has opened up the playbook for Ryan and it shows through three weeks, since the Falcons are throwing for 255 yards a game (15th) to just a 90 yard average (25th) on the ground. Carolina has been gouged at times with the run game (allowing 139 ypg - 26th), so a steady diet of Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers should be in the cards.
Atlanta has owned the head-to-head series in recent years, winning four straight including last year’s game in the Georgia Dome, 31-17. The Falcons pulled away with 17 points in the 4th quarter of that game to turn it into an easy cover as 3.5-point favorites.
Most of the betting trends favor the Falcons as well. Atlanta is 4-0 ATS in the last four meetings, 6-1 ATS in the last seven and a perfect 4-0 ATS in the last four home games in the Georgia Dome. Those covers have come with spreads as high as 14 points down to as low as 3 points, so the minus -9 to minus -7 shouldn’t be too scary for you if you want to eat the chalk.
The over also looks like a solid trend play, going 4-1-2 in the last seven meetings and 3-1-1 in the last five game in the Dome. Carolina also tends to play over against rivals in their division, with the over going 5-1 in the Panthers last six game versus the NFC South.
Badger’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Under normal circumstances this would be a good game. After last week’s showing vs. the Giants, the Panthers have been exposed as a team that lacks heart, leadership and defense. I don’t foresee the team being able to bounce back in one week’s time vs. the Falcons, who I believe are the best team in the NFL right now. I’m taking the Dirty Birds and laying the points.
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