Panthers, Falcons Fight for Playoff Lives #CARvsATL
A losing team will make the 2014 NFL playoffs. But will it be the Carolina Panthers (6-8-1 SU, 7-8 ATS) or the Atlanta Falcons (6-9 SU, 7-8 ATS)? Whichever team wins Sunday’s Week 17 matchup at the Georgia Dome will walk away with the NFC South title and the No. 4 seed in the conference.
As you might expect, the football odds are in the home team’s favor. Atlanta has opened as a four-point favorite, riding the momentum of last week’s 30-14 upset over the New Orleans Saints (–6) at the Superdome. But the Panthers are riding a three-game winning streak which began with an even bigger upset of the Saints, 41-10 as 8.5-point road underdogs.
The last time these two teams met in Week 11, it didn’t look like either team was going to have a shot at making the playoffs. Although the Falcons won that game 19-17, they failed to cash in as 2.5-point home favorites. Graham Gano missed the potential game-winning field goal for Carolina from 46 yards out.
We could certainly see another close contest this Sunday (4:25 PM ET, CBS). However, Atlanta appears to have the edge on paper, as well as on the NFL odds board. The Falcons are ranked No. 18 in the league (No. 8 offense, No. 32 defense, No. 10 special teams) in DVOA with one week left to go, while the Panthers are ranked No. 26 overall (No. 20 offense, No. 17 defense, No. 32 special teams).
Call Me Ishmael
Health always plays a key role in NFL betting, especially at the end of a long and grueling season. And Atlanta’s league-worst defense just lost another starter when safety William Moore was put on injured reserve Tuesday with an injured shoulder. The Falcons went 2-5 SU and ATS earlier this year while Moore was out with shoulder issues. Kemal Ishmael has played well in relief of Moore, and is expected to get the start again this Sunday. Ishmael leads the Falcons with four interceptions.
Meanwhile, it’s uncertain whether or not running back Steven Jackson (3.7 yards per carry) will be able to play after suffering a quad injury against the Saints. Jackson gave way to rookie Devonta Freeman (4.0 yards per carry), who had an excellent half-game against New Orleans with a 31-yard touchdown run and a 36-yard catch that set up another touchdown. Ideally, both Jackson and Freeman would be able to get some touches in for Atlanta.
The Panthers haven’t been the picture of health this year, either. But at least quarterback Cam Newton (81.3 passer rating, 5.0 yards per carry) was able to shake off the broken back he suffered in a car crash earlier this month and lead Carolina to victory over the Browns. Oft-injured running back Jonathan Stewart (4.7 yards per carry) has also played very well during this three-game winning streak. If they can stay upright for one more game, the Panthers just might beat the spread and take down the division title.