Carolina Panthers (1-4 SU, 4-0-1 ATS) at Atlanta Falcons (2-3 SU, 1-4 ATS)
Sunday October 16th, 2011. 1:00PM EST, NFL Football Week 6
Georgia Dome Atlanta, Ga.
By Jay Horne, NFL Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: Car +4.5/ATL -4.5
Over/Under Total: 51
NFC South rivals collide this Sunday inside the Georgia Dome when the 2-3 Atlanta Falcons host the 1-4 Carolina Panthers. The Falcons took the primetime stage last Sunday night and jumped all over the defending Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers 14-0 before giving up 25 unanswered points in their 3rd loss of the season.
Atlanta now faces a pivotal match-up with Carolina this week in a game that will likely be a huge indicator of what type of season the Falcons will have in 2011. Another Falcons loss would do nothing but kiss the playoff picture goodbye. However, a win would get the Falcons back to the .500 mark on the season which would be very encouraging if you take Atlanta’s schedule into consideration over the next few weeks.
The Falcons counterpart will be a Carolina Panthers team that has been knocking on the door all season long. Despite a measly 1-4 record, the Panthers have been in contention in every ball game this year. In fact, the Panthers have not loss by more than a single touchdown in all 4 of their losses this season. The Panthers offense has been very entertaining this season behind QB Cam Newton who is having the ultimate rookie season.
Despite 6 interceptions, Newton has proven that he can lead the Panthers offense down the field by passing for 311 yards per game with 7 touchdowns on the season. Over the last few seasons, the Panthers have failed to succeed with any type of passing attack. This season Newton has provided a boost for the passing attack by keeping plays alive with his feet and consistently finding the open receiver. The Panthers currently rank 5th in the NFL in passing and have shown the ability to post points on the scoreboard which is two things that Panthers faithful did not see in 2010.
Also with the emergence of a newly found passing game, the Panthers have also seen the emergence in WR Steve Smith. Smith was once arguably the best receiver in the NFL, but suffered through the Panthers offensive struggles over the last few years. This season Smith has shown just how dangerous he can be with the ball in his hands. On the year, Smith has caught 27 passes for 609 yards with 3 touchdowns. Smith’s 609 yards ranks 2nd out of all NFL receivers and he will be looking to have another big game this Sunday against a Falcons defense that has given up 294 yards per game.
While the Panthers offense has shown the ability to score points, it has been the defense that has continued to struggle through 2011. The Carolina defense ranks 26th in the NFL allowing 26.4 points per game and has yet to prove they can come up with a big stop late in the game. If new head coach Ron Rivera can figure out a way to get some improvement out of the defense, the Panthers are going to be a contender again.
This week the Panthers must focus on containing a well-balanced Atlanta offense. The Falcons has some talented guys in the receiving game led by veterans WR Roddy White and tight end Tony Gonzalez. White leads the team with 32 receptions and Gonzalez leads the team with 4 touchdowns grabs. Additionally, rookie wide out Julio Jones is progressing nicely and has the makings to be a stellar receiver. Therefore, the Falcons have plenty of targets for QB Matt Ryan. Still, Ryan has not had the season many would have expected.
Through the first 5 games, Ryan has completed 61% passing for 1,302 yards with 7 scores and 6 picks. The interceptions have definitely setback the offense, but the Falcons still have the players to be an explosive group as well. Additionally, running back Michael Turner has also gotten off to a slow start with 360 yards and 4 scores through the first 5 games. Turner rushed for nearly 1,400 yards in 2010 so Falcons fans hope he can pick up the pace and help get the offense out of their slump against a struggling Panthers defense this Sunday.
Jay’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Something is just not clicking with this Atlanta team and the Panthers seem to be getting better with each passing week. I really like the Panthers chances to win this game straight up. The points are just extra. Take Carolina +4.5.
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