The Thursday Night Football game this week features an NFC South Divisional matchup between the Falcons (1-6) and Panthers (3-4).
Week 8 Prime Time Picks: Falcons (+106) vs Panthers (-1.5) O/U 51.5 – All lines via DraftKings
Prime Time Picks: 8-5
Falcons Inventing New Ways to Lose
The Falcons have played three games this season where they had over a 95% chance to win in the game in the 4th quarter: 99.9% vs Cowboys, 99.6% vs Bears, 95.9% vs Lions. They lost all three games. Atlanta has invented new ways to lose this season, and they have their 1-6 record to show for it. Their lone win came against the 1-5 Vikings by a score of 40-23.
Panthers Are Streaky
The Carolina Panthers ended last season on a 10-game losing streak. That streak continued into the 2020 season, as they lost their first two games of the season. Carolina then bounced back and rattled off three wins in a row against the Chargers, Cardinals, and Falcons. They have since fallen back into the loss column, losing their last two games against the Bears and Saints. They sit at 3-4 and are 3rd in the NFC South.
The Panthers already have a win against the Falcons this season as these two teams played just a few weeks ago on Oct. 11 in Atlanta. The Falcons jumped out to an early lead with a TD run from Todd Gurley, but the Panthers took a commanding 20-7 lead at halftime. The Falcons came back strong in the second half, but did not have enough in the tank to win the game, as the Panthers won 23-16.
Teddy Bridgewater vs Falcons Passing Defense
In his first season with the Panthers, Teddy Bridgewater has been solid. He is completing an impressive 72.2% of his passes, and has thrown for over 250 yards in five of the seven games this season. However, he has only thrown 8 TD’s in seven games, and he also has 5 interceptions. Teddy will have a great chance for success tonight as the Falcons have the second-worst passing defense in the league. They are giving up 333.4 yards per game through the air. However, Atlanta’s defense has quietly been getting a lot better the past few weeks. After giving up 38, 40, 30, and 30 points in their first four games, they have not given up more than 23 points in their last three games.
Matt Ryan vs Panthers Passing Defense
Falcons veteran QB Matt Ryan is leading the NFL in passing yards with 2,181 for the season. He is completing 66% of his passes and has thrown 12 TD’s against just 3 interceptions. He has explosive weapons at his disposal in Julio Jones (31 catches, 447 yards, 2 TD’s) and Calvin Ridley (40 catches, 615 yards, 6 TD’s). Ryan and his offense will be going up against a young Panthers passing defense that is giving up 227.1 yards per game through the air. Carolina did not have a great week last week against Drew Brees and the Saints, as Brees had a rating of 118.4 and had 2 TD passes and no interceptions without his top two receivers in the game. Jones and Ridley pose a much bigger threat for them tonight.
Establish the Run
Todd Gurley is averaging 4 yards per carry this season and has found the end zone 7 times. In the Falcons previous matchup against the Panthers, Gurley went off. He carried the ball 14 times for 121 yards (8.6 YPC) and a touchdown. He also caught 4 passes for 29 yards. Because of this success, the Falcons need to het him going again tonight. New Falcons head coach Raheem Morris seems to be willing to give Gurley his chances, as in the two games that Morris has coached since taking over for Dan Quinn, Gurley has gotten 20 and 23 carries respectively. When Gurley gets going, it can really open up the passing game for Ryan, Jones, and Ridley to make some big plays.
No CMC Again
Carolina will be without star RB Christian McCaffrey again this week, as NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported that CMC isn’t expected to be activated from injured reserve for tonight’s game. McCaffrey is obviously a huge part of the Carolina offense, and the offense is not the same without him. Hopefully he is good to go for next week.
I think the play is on Atlanta here. It’s somewhat of a bold prediction, as their 1-6 record is atrocious. However, I think they are a little better than what the direct W/L record indicates. They have the NFL’s leading passer in Matt Ryan, a threat at RB in Todd Gurley, and two of the most electric WR’s in the league in Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. If they can get Gurley going early and often, which they did last time around against Carolina, I think that will really open things up for Jones and Ridley to make big plays downfield against a young Carolina secondary. In addition, Atlanta’s defense has been playing better since getting rid of Dan Quinn, and they were able to hold the Panthers to 4 field goal attempts in their first matchup a few weeks ago. In this series, the Falcons are 5-1 ATS in their last 6 meetings, and the Panthers are 0-5 ATS in their last 5 Thursday games. I’m taking the Falcons +1.5. This is either going to be a genius pick, or a very stupid pick. We shall find out tonight.
Title Photo: Getty Images