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ATLANTA FALCONS (2-5) at CAROLINA PANTHERS (4-3)
The sizzling-hot Panthers seek a fourth straight win when they host the slumping Falcons on Sunday.
Atlanta suffered its worst loss of the season with Matt Ryans 4 INT resulting in a 27-13 defeat in Arizona. Meanwhile, Carolina has zero turnovers during its three-game win streak (SU and ATS), in which it has won by a combined score of 96 to 38. QB Cam Newton has completed 77.3percent of his passes for 667 yards and 6 TD during the surge. The Falcons have rushed for a pathetic 41.8 YPG in the past four weeks, while the Panthers rank second in the NFL with 79.3 rushing YPG allowed. Atlanta is 5-1 SU (4-2 ATS) in the past six meetings with Carolina, but the teams split their two contests last year with both home teams winning straight-up, while the Panthers covered in both meetings thanks to 394 rushing yards in the two games. Both teams have significant offensive injuries, as the Falcons are without WR Julio Jones (foot) for the season, and could also be missing WR Roddy White (hamstring), OT Sam Baker (knee) and RB Jason Snelling (ankle) who are all questionable. Carolina's top rusher, RB DeAngelo Williams, has been slowed by a quad injury, but RB Jonathan Stewart (ankles) expects to make his season debut in this game. Atlanta doesn't usually have two bad games in a row under head coach Mike Smith, going 11-0 ATS after a double-digit loss and 12-1 ATS after scoring 14 points or less. But the Panthers are 13-2 ATS after three straight games with a positive turnover margin since 1992, and 7-0 ATS when allowing less than 100 rushing yards in two straight games over the past two seasons.
Despite the Falcons having the NFL's worst ground game (62.4 rushing YPG) that has gained a mere 3.4 yards per carry (6th-fewest in NFL), they continue to move the football through the air with 300.4 passing YPG (4th in NFL). Despite not having his top two receivers, QB Matt Ryan has still thrown for 2,223 yards (5th in NFL) with 14 TD (T-8th in league) and just seven interceptions. However, four of those picks came last week on the road, where Atlanta is now 0-3 (SU and ATS) with a mere 17.7 PPG and eight turnovers (minus-4 TO margin). Ryan has a great chance to bounce back though, as he has had huge career success versus the Panthers with a 7-3 record, 2,518 passing YPG, 17 TD and 6 INT in 10 meetings. He'll look mostly to WR Harry Douglas, who has blossomed with a larger role in the passing game with 19 catches (on 25 targets) for 270 yards and a touchdown over the past two weeks. But both of the club's top running backs have really struggled with RB Steven Jackson gaining a career-low 3.3 yards per carry and RB Jacquizz Rodgers even lower at 3.2 YPC. Defensively, the Falcons rank 27th out of 32 NFL teams in a number of categories, including yards per pass attempt (7.3), yards per carry (4.6) and third-down conversion rate (44.1percent). But the biggest problem could be the team's lack of takeaways, as it has generated multiple turnovers just once all season. This doesn't bode well against a Carolina team that has made no big mistakes during its win streak.
Panthers QB Cam Newton has been rolling in his past three games, but those wins have come versus Minnesota, St. Louis and Tampa Bay, which have a combined 4-18 record this season. The recent surge puts him seventh in the NFL in passer rating (97.6), due to his 7.7 YPA, 12 TD and just 5 INT this year. Newton also played very well in last year's series with Atlanta, completing 64.4percent of his passes for 502 yards (8.5 YPA), 4 TD and 0 INT, plus burning them on the ground for 202 yards on 18 carries (11.2 YPC) with two more scores. With both of his top rushers less than 100 percent, Newton will likely carry the football a lot more on Sunday. The Panthers' offense has ground up a 33:39 time of possession (2nd in NFL) and Newton has also done a great job delivering when it matters most, ranking among the top five NFL teams in converting third downs (45.3percent), red-zone efficiency (65.2percent) and Goal to Go efficiency (81.8percent). Newton has also spread the wealth among his receivers, as five Panthers have multiple touchdown receptions this year and four have surpassed 275 receiving yards. Defensively, Carolina has been fierce, especially against the run where it has held each of the past five opponents to 90 yards or less, allowing just 67.2 rushing YPG on 3.7 YPC over this span. The unit has stayed fresh all season with just 26:16 time of possession, leading to 301.4 total YPG allowed (3rd in NFL). The defense has also held strong in the red zone (37.5percent efficiency, 4th in league) that has led to its paltry 13.7 PPG allowed (2nd in NFL). The Panthers have also shown the ability to make plays with at least one takeaway in all seven contests, including three forced turnovers in three of the past five games.
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