Carolina Panthers (3-4) at Atlanta Falcons (3-3)
Both of these teams have won three games each, but that has more to do with who they have played than either team being good or even average. The Falcons’ three wins came against the Giants, Jets, and Dolphins, who are a combined 4-16, and none of them came by more than one score, while their three losses have come by a combined 53 points, even though the Buccaneers are the only team the Falcons have played who are .500 or better, having faced one of the easiest schedules in the league overall.
The Panthers, meanwhile, got their three wins in the first three weeks of the season, but two of those wins came against the Jets and Texans, who are among the worst teams in the league, and the Panthers have lost all four games since then by a combined 39 points, even though they faced just one winning team (Dallas) over that stretch. The Panthers have faced the tougher schedule overall and their week 2 win over the Saints is the only win either of these two teams has against even a decent team, but neither of these teams has an impressive resume.
The Falcons have had success more recently than the Panthers, which has led to this line shifting from favoring the Falcons by 2 points on the early line last week to 3 points this week, a significant shift given that 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal, but the Panthers have played better statistically across the whole season, ranking 28th, 6th, and 27th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency respectively, as opposed to 24th, 30th, and 31st for the Falcons.
The Panthers’ recent struggles have largely been the result of significant injury absences, most notably feature back Christian McCaffrey, top linebacker Shaq Thompson, and top cornerback Jaycee Horn, but, while McCaffrey remains out, Thompson seems likely to return this week, while recently acquired cornerback Stephon Gilmore will make his debut, which should at least offset the loss of Horn and which could be a big upgrade for this defense if he is anything close to his top form.
The Panthers are also in a better spot than the Falcons, desperate to bounce back off of last week’s embarrassing loss to the Giants, while the Falcons have to turn around and face the Saints in New Orleans next week. Teams cover at just a 41.1% rate all-time at home in a divisional matchup against a team with a sub .500 record before going on the road and facing another divisional opponent with a record better than .500. There isn’t quite enough here for the Panthers to be worth betting, but if Thompson plays I may reconsider.
Update: Thompson and Gilmore are playing, while Calvin Ridley is a surprise inactive for the Falcons for personal reasons. Lock in +3 while you can. I would not bet +2.5. The money line at +130 makes sense as well.
Carolina Panthers 24 Atlanta Falcons 23 Upset Pick +130
Pick against the spread: Carolina +3