At 5-7, the Atlanta Falcons (+3) are third in the NFC South, but still mathematically in the playoff race. The Carolina Panthers (-3) share the same record but they are a team in disarray, having fired their offensive coordinator Joe Brady mid-season. The Panthers won this matchup in week 8 in Atlanta and they’ll be coming off a bye week to host the Falcons in Charlotte. This matchup could be the final nail in the coffin for the playoff hopes of the losing team.
The Carolina offense just isn’t the same without Christian McCaffrey. The do-it-all weapon has spent more time on the sideline than on the field this year and his second go-round on injured reserve has put him out for the season. He missed the first game against these two teams as well, so this won’t be a substantial change in the matchup. While Cam Newton is a better quarterback than Sam Darnold, it’s not a substantial upgrade. He can still create havoc as a runner, but he remains the inaccurate passer he’s been through most of his career without the sometimes dazzling highs he used to have.
The Falcons are also missing a critical offensive weapon in Calvin Ridley. He was expected to play the first time these teams met, but was a late scratch from the lineup. Will Atlanta be better prepared this time knowing their top wide receiver won’t be in the lineup? Atlanta has grown more accustomed to not having Ridley out there and Russell Gage has stepped up more in recent weeks. They’ll need to lean on him and Kyle Pitts and Cordarelle Patterson to make the offense click.
The offensive line also needs to hold up, which they didn’t do the first time around. The Panthers pass rushing combo of Haason Reddick and Brian Burns looms large. The Atlanta offensive line can’t afford to get behind, as they regularly struggle to protect Matt Ryan in clear passing situations. That said, they’ve been a much better run blocking unit in recent weeks and may look to keep that trend going in Charlotte. The fact that they ran successfully against two top-5 run defenses is a promising trend, as Carolina ranks in the middle of the NFL for run defense.
While the Atlanta defense is not a good one, they’ve had decent performance in recent weeks. Holding the Patriots to just 19 points was a high point for them. They’ll face an offense that felt compelled to fire their offensive coordinator in the middle of the season. On the flip side, the Carolina defense is a very good one and they can disrupt the QB. Atlanta’s best hope is to get the running game going and to stick with it through four quarters.
This has all the makings of a low-scoring game.
The Falcons are underdogs on the road as the DraftKings Sportbook has them losing by a field goal.
Score prediction: Falcons 16, Panthers 13
Bold prediction: Atlanta rushes for over 150 yards and 5 yards per carry.
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Falcons vs Panthers Week 14
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Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.