Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons (-4, 47 o/u)
Despite sitting well below .500, both the Carolina Panthers (6-8-1) and Atlanta Falcons (6-9) can punch their ticket to the playoffs with a win in week 17. These NFC South foes will square off on Sunday, Dec. 28, at the Georgia Dome with the division title on the line (1:00 p.m. Eastern).
The winner of Sunday’s game will join the 2010 Seattle Seahawks as the only division champions with a losing record.
The Panthers are looking for their second consecutive trip to the postseason after winning the division with a 12-4 record last year. However, they are currently four-point dogs to the Falcons, who have historically played well at home in the Matt Ryan era.
The first time Carolina and Atlanta met this year, the Falcons pulled out a 19-17 win on the strength of a late Matt Bryant field goal. The win snapped a three-game losing streak for Atlanta against the Panthers, but it continued the trend of Atlanta dominating Carolina at home; the Falcons have only lost one of their last six against Carolina at the Georgia dome.
Both squads won last weekend, setting up this winner-take-all game in week 17. The Falcons dominated the Saints in New Orleans, 30-14, despite being 5.5-point dogs. Meanwhile, the Panthers got by the Browns at home, 17-13.
The win was the third in a row for the Panthers, and quarterback Cam Newton appeared to be fully recovered from injuries suffered in a car accident three weeks ago. During his last two games, “Super Cam” has been playing his best football since the opening weeks of the season; he threw for 226 yards and three TDs in a 41-10 win over New Orleans, and added 201 yards and one TD through the air, plus another 63 yards and a touchdown on the ground against the Browns.
Falcons QB Matt Ryan has been even hotter, though. The one-time Boston College Eagle has thrown for 1,368 yards and nine TDs in his last four games. The Carolina defense, which is top-ten against the pass, will have to pay special attention to receiver Julio Jones. The 6’3″ speedster has surpassed the century mark seven times this season and is second in the league with 1,535 receiver yards (despite missing week 15).
Atlanta has lost four games at the Georgia Dome this season, but they are playing their best football at the right time. Look for the Falcons to earn the division title come Sunday.
(Photo credit: Chris J. Nelson [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.)
Let's have fun and keep it civil.