Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons
Georgia Dome – Atlanta, Georgia
Sunday, December 28, 2014, 4:25 pm Eastern, TV: CBS, NFL Sunday Ticket
Opening Line: Atlanta -3 1/2
Current Line: Atlanta -3
Opening Total: 48
Current Total: 47 1/2
Opening Money Line: Falcons -165 / Panthers +140
Current Money Line: Falcons -170 / Panthers +145
Usually when six win NFL teams meet in late December very little is at stake besides perhaps jobs for next season. That is not the case as the 6-9 Atlanta Falcons host the 6-8-1 Carolina Panthers with the NFC South title and a playoff berth on the line Sunday. The winner will be the #4 seed in the NFC playoffs and host either the Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals, Green Bay Packers or Detroit Lions in the wild card game next week. Those four teams plus the NFC East Champion Dallas Cowboys are all 11-4 and playing for seeding in week #17.
Since 2001, Atlanta leads the series 17-10 against Carolina. The Falcons won earlier in the season in Charlotte 19-17 to snap a 3 game losing streak to the Panthers.
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Carolina is coached by Ron Rivera. The Panthers have a tie at the Cincinnati Bengals 37-37. Carolina has road losses at the Baltimore Ravens 38-10, Packers 38-17, Philadelphia Eagles 45-21, and Minnesota Vikings 31-13, plus home losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers 37-19, Seahawks 13-9, New Orleans Saints 28-10 and Falcons 19-17. Carolina has home wins over the Lions 24-7, Chicago Bears 31-24, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 19-17, and Cleveland Browns 17-13 last week, along with road wins over the Buccaneers 20-14 and Saints 41-10. The Panthers have won 3 straight games after a six game losing streak. Carolina is 7-8 ATS and the total is 8-7 this season. The Panthers were 6 point favorites against the Browns and the total was 40.
Atlanta is coached by Mike Smith. The Falcons started off the season 2-1 but then lost 5 straight games. Atlanta has lost 2 of their last 3 games. The Falcons have home wins over the Saints 37-34 in overtime, Buccaneers 56-14, and Cardinals 29-18 and road wins at the Buccaneers 27-17, Panthers 19-17 and Saints 30-14 last week . Atlanta has road losses at the Cincinnati Bengals 24-10, Minnesota Vikings 41-28, New York Giants 30-20, Baltimore Ravens 29-7, Detroit Lions 22-21 in London and Packers 43-37, plus home losses to the Chicago Bears 27-13, Cleveland Browns 26-24 and Steelers 27-20. The Falcons are 7-8 ATS and the total is 6-9 this season. Atlanta was a 6 point underdog against the Saints and the total was 56.
Carolina is being outscored 25-20 this season. The Panthers are #22 in scoring and #22 in points allowed. Carolina is averaging 349 yards per game on offense including 227 passing and 123 rushing yards per game. The Panthers are #14 in total offense and #8 in rushing. Carolina is allowing 343 yards per game on defense including 228 passing and 115 rushing yards. The Panthers are in the top ten in both passing and total defense. Carolina is 95/221 on third and fourth down conversions and opponents are 86/202. The Panthers have forced 34 sacks and allowed 41 this season. Carolina has one return touchdown and has allowed 5 defensive/special teams touchdowns this season. The Panthers are even in turnovers.
Carolina quarterback Cam Newton has completed 58.3% of his passes for 3,013 yards with 17 touchdowns and 12 interceptions along with 97 carries for 488 yards and 4 touchdowns. Newton was involved in a rollover car accident a few weeks ago and suffered some broken bones in his back. He returned last week against Cleveland after missing a game and isn’t listed on the injury report this week. Derek Anderson started both games against Tampa Bay and played in garbage time of blowouts against Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Green Bay and New Orleans. He has thrown for 701 yards with 5 touchdowns and no interceptions.
Running back Jonathan Stewart has 162 carries for 760 yards with 3 touchdowns, plus 23 catches for 161 yards and a touchdown. DeAngelo Williams has 62 carries for 219 yards, plus 5 catches. He is probable after missing four games with a broken finger. Receiver Kelvin Benjamin has 72 catches for 999 yards and 9 touchdowns. Tight end Greg Olson has 82 catches for 981 yards and 6 touchdowns. Receiver Jerricho Cotchery has 45 catches for 555 yards and a touchdown. Five defensive players and six offensive linemen are questionable or out for the Panthers.
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Atlanta is being outscored 26-25 this season. Atlanta is #25 in points allowed and #9 in scoring. The Falcons are averaging 384 yards per game on offense including 289 passing yards and 96 rushing yards. Atlanta is #7 in total offense, #5 in passing and #24 in rushing. The Falcons are allowing 404 total yards per game on defense including 291 passing yards and 113 rushing yards. Atlanta is dead last in both total and pass defense. The Falcons are 93/207 on third and fourth down conversions and opponents are 95/200 on third and fourth down conversions. Atlanta has 21 sacks and has allowed 25. The Falcons are +8 in turnovers. Atlanta has 3 defensive/ special teams touchdowns and has allowed 3 defensive touchdowns.
Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan has completed 66.4% of his passes for 4,434 yards with 28 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, plus 28 carries for 139 yards. Running back Steven Jackson has 190 carries for 707 yards and 6 touchdowns, plus 20 catches for 148 yards. He is doubtful with a quad injury. Devonta Freeman has 59 carries for 235 yards and a touchdown, along with 28 catches for 222 yards and a touchdown. Antone Smith has 23 carries for 144 yards and 2 touchdowns, along with 13 catches for 222 yards and 3 touchdowns. He injured his knee against Carolina and is out for the season. Jacquizz Rodgers has 49 carries for 173 yards and a touchdown, along with 26 catches for 154 yards and a touchdown.
Julio Jones has 100 catches for 1,535 yards and 6 touchdowns. He is questionable with a hip injury. Roddy White has 72 catches for 817 yards and 7 touchdowns. He is probable with an ankle injury. Devin Hester has 34 catches for 472 yards with 2 touchdowns, plus a punt return for a touchdown. Harry Douglas has 46 catches for 528 yards and 2 touchdowns. He is probable with a foot injury. Five offensive linemen are questionable or out as are seven defensive players. Kicker Matt Bryant is probable with the flu.
Carolina is 5-2 ATS after gaining more than 350 total yards, and after allowing less than 250 total yards, 10-4 after allowing less than 150 passing yards, 16-7-1 against teams with losing records, 9-4 against NFC South teams, 24-11-1 in December, 3-7 in road games, 2-5 overall, 1-4 after rushing for more than 150 yards, and 1-5 after allowing less than 15 points. The Panthers are 4-1 ATS in the last 5 games in this series and were underdogs in each of those games.
Atlanta is 6-1 ATS against NFC South teams, 5-1 against NFC teams, 4-1 in week #17 and in December, 6-2 after rushing for less than 90 yards, 2-6 on fieldturf, 2-7 after a straight up win by 14 points or more, 1-4 after a straight up win and against teams with losing records, and 1-8 after allowing 15 points or less. The home team has covered the last 4 games in this series. The Falcons have covered 5 of the last 6 at home against the Panthers.
It is hard to believe that teams with losing streaks of six and five games are one win away from making the playoffs, but here we are. Nine teams that either have been eliminated from playoff contention or haven’t qualified yet would be in first place in the terrible NFC South. Atlanta is banged up at the skill positions but I think they still have enough to escape with a close win at home in a low scoring game.