Carolina Panthers (5-7) at Atlanta Falcons (3-9)
When these two teams met a few weeks ago, the Panthers were favored by 4.5 points at home, but ended up getting blown out by a final score of 29-3. Now in the rematch, the Falcons are favored by a field goal at home, suggesting these two teams are about even, whereas the previous line suggested the Panthers were a couple points better. We’re not getting as much line value with the Falcons as we were in the previous matchup, but this line is still off.
The Falcons have lost back-to-back home games since the previous matchup, first to the Buccaneers and then to the Saints, but they actually won the first down rate battle against New Orleans, despite missing their top-2 receivers in terms of yards per game, Julio Jones and Austin Hooper. Both of those players will return this week, the latter from a 3-game absence. On the season, the Falcons are actually about even in first down rate differential, ranking 18th in the NFL at -0.29%. Their 3-9 record is largely the result of their -11 turnover margin (4th worst in the NFL), but turnover margins don’t correlate week-to-week, so the Falcons aren’t necessarily going to continue losing the turnover battle going forward.
The Panthers, meanwhile, have also lost back-to-back games since the previous matchup, but that’s part of a larger trend for this team, as they’ve completely bottomed out over the past couple months after a 4-2 start. Since the start of week 7, only the Raiders and the Jaguars have a worse first down rate differential than the Panthers, who are at -7.22%. Their one win during that time frame came against the Titans in a game in which the Panthers lost the first down rate battle but won by 10 because the Titans missed 3 field goals and lost the turnover battle by 2.
On the season, the Panthers rank just 23rd in first down rate differential at -2.56%, despite facing a much easier schedule than the Falcons (58% opponents win percentage vs 51%). With Jones and Hooper back and the Panthers trending downwards, I have this line calculated at Atlanta -8. A trip to San Francisco on deck looms as a potential distraction (teams are 24-49 ATS as favorites before being double digit underdogs since 2008), but the Falcons are a great value at -3 and bettable at -3.5 as well.
Atlanta Falcons 31 Carolina Panthers 24
Pick against the spread: Atlanta -3