CAROLINA PANTHERS (1-2)
at ATLANTA FALCONS (3-0)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. EDT
Line: Atlanta -7, Total: 48½
The unbeaten Falcons (SU and ATS) look for a sixth straight home win when division rival Carolina flies south to Atlanta on Sunday.
The Panthers have some serious issues coming into this game. They were hammered at home by the Giants last Thursday night, failing to generate a pass rush, cover anyone in the secondary, or stop the run. And Cam Newton continues to look less decisive in his second season. The Falcons, meanwhile, continue to play great overall and especially at home, where they’ve won five in a row at the Georgia Dome SU (3-0-2 ATS). They’ve also handled the Panthers four straight times overall (SU and ATS), as well as four in a row at home (SU and ATS).
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Newton is off to a terrible start in his second season, throwing for just two touchdowns and five interceptions. Those are the exact same numbers he had in last year’s two meetings with Atlanta (2 TD, 5 INT) connecting on just 54% of his passes and posting a 56.9 QB rating. Newton has run for a mere 3.4 yards per carry this season and the Panthers ground game as a whole (96 rushing YPG, 19th in NFL) has also been much worse than last season (151 rushing YPG, 3rd in NFL). However, they should be able to chew up some yards versus a Falcons run defense allowing 129 rushing YPG (24th in league), especially with Jonathan Stewart’s ankle finally close to 100 percent healed. WR Steve Smith was critical of the way Newton carried himself on the sidelines of the 36-7 loss to New York, and Smith will look to set a good example by building on his 1,066 yards and five touchdowns in 17 career games against Atlanta. Last year, Smith caught 11 passes for 191 yards in the two meetings.
Ryan has enjoyed great success in this series over the years, beating Carolina in six of the eight meetings while throwing for 226 YPG, 12 TD and just four picks. His top three receivers each have 15+ catches this season, as WR Roddy White has a team-best 244 receiving yards, TE Tony Gonzalez leads the team with 21 catches and three scores, and WR Julio Jones also has three touchdowns. When the Falcons most recently faced Carolina last December, this trio combined for 17 catches, 270 yards and three touchdowns (two by Jones and one by White). The success of the passing game has not translated to the ground, as Atlanta has gained just 90 rushing YPG (25th in NFL). Top two rushers Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers have combined for a paltry 3.4 yards per carry. However, the last time Carolina visited Atlanta last October, Turner rushed for 139 yards (5.1 YPC) and 2 TD. The Falcons have struggled to limit opposing rushing attacks, surrendering 129 rushing YPG (24th in NFL), but they have done a great job against the pass despite facing two great quarterbacks in a row (Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning). Atlanta ranks seventh in the NFL with 208 passing YPG allowed.