Carolina Panthers (6-8-1) at Atlanta Falcons (6-9)
This line is off as it suggests the Falcons are the better of these two teams, considering they are favored by 4. Meanwhile, rate of moving the chains suggests the Panthers are the better team, as they rank 15th in the NFL, moving the chains at a 73.82% rate, as opposed to 73.29% for their opponents, a differential of 0.53%. The Falcons, on the other hand, rank 21st, moving the chains at a 74.63% rate, as opposed to 76.00% for their opponents, a differential of -1.37%.
The Panthers have been especially good over the past 4 weeks since the bye, as they’ve moved the chains at a 78.72% rate, as opposed to 62.77% for their opponents, a differential of 15.96%. Ron Rivera, 2013 Coach of the Year, has made all the right adjustments and has this team looking like the 2013 version, despite all of the personnel turnover. The 2013 version won 12 games, the NFC South, and got secured a first round bye, while ranking 4th in rate of moving the chains differential. The Panthers’ only loss over the past 4 games came on the road in Minnesota, where they surrendered two fluky punt return touchdowns. Sure, it’s just a 4 game stretch and they’ve played a weak schedule, but the Falcons aren’t exactly a quality opponent so that could carry over into this one.
That being said, the Falcons have definitely resembled a quality opponent this season at home for the most part, moving the chains at a 77.13% rate, as opposed to 75.45% for their opponents, a differential of 1.68%. That’s as opposed to 72.40% for their offense on the road and 76.45% for opponent’s offenses, a differential of -4.05%. This relative home dominance is nothing new for them as they are 32-22-1 ATS at home (39-16 straight up) since Matt Ryan and Mike Smith came in back in 2008, as long as Matt Ryan is healthy.
Also, fun fact, almost every season a team goes from a first round bye to out of the playoffs. Seattle, Denver, and New England all are going back, which means Carolina would have to lose this game and miss the playoffs for that to continue. Meanwhile, almost every season a team goes from 5 wins or fewer to the playoffs and Atlanta is really the only one still in the running that could do so (Houston technically isn’t eliminated, but they need a lot of help). It’s not a hard and fast rule, but it’s something I keep in mind when I do my season previews and something to keep in mind here. Of course, Carolina doesn’t need to win to cover as 4 point underdogs here. I’m taking the red hot Panthers, but I’m not that confident.
Atlanta Falcons 31 Carolina Panthers 30
Pick against the spread: Carolina +4