- Atlanta has won in Carolina three of the past four years, and all four games stayed under 50 total points
Looking at the defenses in this divisional battle, you’d think we’re in for a shootout on Thursday Night Football. I wouldn’t be so sure.
Coming off yet another creative loss, the Falcons head on a one-hour flight to Charlotte to take on the Panthers. The game’s total is high at 51, but the last time these two teams met we saw both teams commit to their ground attacks. Traditionally, we see fewer points in the second meeting of divisional foes, and that Week 5 matchup ended in a 23-16 Panthers win.
Carolina is willing to play at a snail’s pace, keeping the majority of their pass attempts underneath and willing to let the play clock run between snaps. Atlanta has been a little quicker, but they ran the ball effectively against this poor Panthers’ rush defense in their first meeting. There’s also a little rain in the forecast, although heavy winds earlier in the day are expected to have subsided by kickoff. That shouldn’t have too much of an impact, but I do see this as the type of game where there aren’t enough possessions to hit 50 total points, even as both offenses move the ball well.
And I do expect the offenses to move the ball. Matt Ryan has been playing well of late, and any concern about him playing outside his climate-controlled home environment is probably overblown — as far as indoor/outdoor splits go, his have always been mild. After some stumbles, the Falcons’ passing offense has been much better over the past two weeks since Julio Jones returned to the lineup. And Todd Gurley had his only 100-yard rushing game of the season the last time these teams met, leading a ground attack that piled up a season-high 166 rushing yards.
The Panthers are hoping to get Christian McCaffrey back, which would be a big boost. Of course, Mike Davis has played well in McCaffrey’s absence, and McCaffrey’s return would only continue the Panthers’ recent trends of an offensive attack focused mostly on underneath passing. Teddy Bridgewater did hit D.J. Moore for a 74-yard touchdown over the top of the defense this past week, but it came on a blown coverage and was just Bridgewater’s third touchdown pass this season of more than 15 yards.
Atlanta’s defense is prone to allowing big plays in the passing game — the 35 explosive pass plays they’ve surrendered are five more than any other defense, and are a big reason the Falcons have wound up chasing points so frequently. But Bridgewater is not a quarterback likely to exploit that as heavily as others. If Atlanta isn’t giving up such a high rate of those explosive pass plays, their high-scoring game environments aren’t likely to be as pronounced.
I like this game to go under to the total. I’m also backing Matt Ryan’s recent run of strong play with a full-strength skill position group to help Atlanta stave off yet another disheartening loss.
NFL Expert Picks
Falcons ML @ +120
Under 51 @ -110
NFL Free Picks
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