Atlanta Falcons (2-7) at Carolina Panthers (5-4)
At 2-7, the Falcons have one of the worst records in the NFL, but peripheral stats have always suggested they’ve played better than the outcome of their games would suggest. Over the past couple weeks, the outcomes of their games have significantly improved, as they pulled off a massive upset as 13.5-point underdogs in New Orleans last week and prior to that they played a competitive game against the Seahawks with backup quarterback Matt Schaub under center.
The Falcons won the first down rate battle by +8.57% and +6.89% respectively in those two games and now rank 16th on the season in first down rate differential at +0.65%, which aligns with my roster rankings, which have them 18th. They have the league’s worst turnover margin at -12, but that’s largely because of a 31.82% fumble recovery rate (2nd worst in the NFL) and turnover margins are unpredictable on a week-to-week basis anyway. If they can play turnover neutral football the rest of the way, they could easily continue pulling upsets in the second half of the season.
The Panthers, on the other hand, have a turnover margin of +4. They haven’t overly benefitted from turnovers, but, even with a positive turnover margin, they have a negative point differential at -3. They have a 5-4 record, but rank 23rd in first down rate differential at -2.55%, a few spots behind the Falcons, which is also consistent with my roster rankings, which also have them 23rd. The Falcons have some injury concerns on offense, with tight end Austin Hooper and running back Devonta Freeman both out, but the latter was not playing well at all and they get a big re-addition on defense with cornerback Desmond Trufant returning from a 4-game absence. The Panthers, meanwhile, will be without starting cornerback Ross Cockrell and could also be without fellow starting cornerback Donte Jackson.
The Falcons are also in a significantly better spot. While the Panthers have a much bigger game in New Orleans next week, the Falcons get to return home and face a much easier Buccaneers’ squad. Underdogs are 69-34 ATS since 2016 before being favorites when their opponents will next be underdogs and all three of those conditions are met in this game. On top of that, divisional home favorites are just 29-64 ATS since 2002 before being divisional road underdogs. The Panthers could easily overlook the Falcons this week with arguably the toughest game of their season on deck and if that happens the Falcons could easily catch them off guard and pull the upset this week.
Unfortunately, we’ve lost some line value with the Falcons since last week, with the Falcons going from +7 on the early line to +4.5 this week, but I have the Falcons a couple points better in my rankings and I have this line calculated at even as a result. About 30% of games are decided by 4 points or fewer, so we’re still getting good protection in case the Falcons can’t pull the upset, but I like the Falcons chances of winning straight up as well, in such a great spot. This is my Pick of the Week.
Atlanta Falcons 30 Carolina Panthers 27 Upset Pick +175
Pick against the spread: Atlanta +4.5
Confidence: Pick of the Week