Atlanta Falcons (5-7) at Carolina Panthers (5-7)
The last time we saw the Panthers, they were beaten easily in Miami in a horrific performance for the Panthers offense in their first game with Cam Newton under center without feature back Christian McCaffrey, who is out for the season. Fortunately, the Panthers had a bye last week, so Cam Newton will hopefully have a better grasp of this offense two weeks later, still only about a month into his return to Carolina, where he has had to learn an entirely new offensive system. Newton is far past his prime, but it wouldn’t be hard for him to be an upgrade on what the Panthers have gotten out of their other quarterback this season.
It also helps that the Panthers are playing the Falcons, who are one of the worst teams in the league, despite their 5-7 record. The Falcons’ five wins have all come by one score against teams with a losing record, while four of their seven losses have come by 23 points or more and five or seven by 13 points or more, contributing to a -116 point differential that ranks 4th worst in the NFL. The Panthers have the same record at 5-7, but they have a significantly better point differential at -17 and they have a clear edge in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency as well, ranking 24th, as opposed to 31st for the Falcons.
Carolina’s offense has been terrible this season regardless of the quarterback and when McCaffrey has been out it has been even worse, leading to them ranking 31st in schedule adjusted offensive efficiency on the season, but their defense has been one of the best in the league, especially in recent weeks since top linebacker Shaq Thompson and #1 cornerback Stephon Gilmore have returned from injury, leading to them ranking 2nd in schedule adjusted defensive efficiency on the season. The Falcons, on the other hand, haven’t been particularly good at anything, ranking 26th on offense and 22nd on defense.
Despite that, the Panthers are favored by just 2.5 points at home, suggesting these two teams are about even, which is not the case. My calculated line favors the Panthers by five points, so we’re getting great line value with the Panthers with this line being under a field goal, as just 8% of games are decided by 1-2 points, as opposed to 16% by exactly a field goal. However, I’m not going to bet the Panthers for a couple reasons.
For one, I don’t want to bet on the Panthers until I know how much better Cam Newton has gotten in this offense since the last time we saw him, given how terrible he was his last time out. On top of that, the Panthers are in a bad spot, having already beaten the Falcons in Atlanta earlier this year. Divisional home favorites cover at just a 42.4% rate in a same season regular season rematch against a team that they previously beat as road underdogs, as the Panthers did in Atlanta. The Panthers still make sense for pick ‘em purposes as they are the only team in this game with an above average unit in any phase of the game, but I wouldn’t recommend betting on them.
Carolina Panthers 20 Atlanta Falcons 16
Pick against the spread: Carolina -2.5