NFL Betting Favorite: Atlanta -2.5
The Atlanta Falcons went 13-3 and had home field advantage in the NFL playoffs last year. The Falcons have already lost five games this year, and they can’t afford another loss this weekend or their playoff hopes will take a big hit. Carolina is a much improved football team with Cam Newton under center. The Panthers are 4-8, but they have been giving everyone a great battle. Can Atlanta get back on track or will the Panthers win this one at home?
Matt Ryan has taken a big step back this year. It’s surprising given that he has a great new weapon on the outside in Julio Jones. Ryan actually has the lowest quarterback rating of his four-year NFL career. He has already thrown 12 interceptions, and he is completing 60.5% of his passes. Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez are the teams two top receivers at this point, but Jones is averaging 16.6 yards per reception. The Falcons definitely have one of the best groups of receivers in the league. Michael Turner has had a bounce back year in the backfield. Turner is averaging 4.3 yards per carry, and he should top 1,000 yards this weekend.
The Falcons defense has improved over the last couple years. The front seven is among the best in football at stopping the run. The front four do a great job of clogging the running lanes, and the linebackers are sure tacklers. Atlanta has had some trouble at the safety positions this year. The Falcons safeties have allowed far too many plays to get behind them. The secondary will need to step up this weekend against a solid Panthers passing attack.
Cam Newton has really kick started the Carolina offense in 2011. This was a team that struggled in a big way offensively last year. This year, the Panthers are fifth in the NFL in total offense. Newton has 3,297 yards passing, and he also has 518 rushing yards. Newton has thrown 13 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, but he has proven able to move the ball against every defense he has faced this year. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart form a nice tailback tandem for Carolina. Steve Smith has 61 catches and 1,092 receiving yards already this year. Carolina is putting up 24 points per game this year.
The Panthers defense has struggled in 2011. The team has suffered quite a few key injuries, especially at the linebacker spot. Chris Gamble is a top-notch cover corner, and he leads the team with three interceptions. Opponents are converting on 42% of their third down conversion attempts. The Panthers need to find a way to get off the field quicker. Carolina is giving up 27 points per game this year.
Both offenses should be able to move the ball in this one. Atlanta’s defense is better than Carolina’s at this point, and the Falcons have a lot more to play for than do the Panthers. I like the Falcons to cover here.
Free NFL Pick: Falcons -2.5
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