It’s a battle of the NFC South’s struggling teams when the (1-6) Atlanta Falcons take on the (3-4) Carolina Panthers to kick off week eight of the NFL season today (8.20pm ET Thursday; TV: Live on Fox & NFL Network).
Now at the half way point of the season, can the Panthers salvage their year? Or will the Falcons play spoiler as they brace for a finish that could see them land one of the NFL’s top draft picks? Anything could happen when these two rivals meet in Charlotte. Read on for our Atlanta Falcons vs Carolina Panthers predictions and preview, ending with our betting picks.
Snatching Defeat from Jaws of Victory
2020 has been a season of absolute heartbreak for the Falcons, who have found ways to lose games in just about every way imaginable. If you’ve heard the say, “snatching victory from the jaws of defeat,” for Atlanta, it’s been every bit the opposite.
After the Falcons lost in week one to the Seattle Seahawks in a game where they were simply outplayed by a better team, Atlanta’s woes began to hit. The team essentially handed the Dallas Cowboys a win in week two after they forgot how to play an onside kick before losing another close game against the Chicago Bears in week three. Atlanta picked up two more losses against the Green Bay Packers and Panthers in their first meeting of the year, before getting their first win over the Minnesota Vikings in week six.
However, if people thought that win suggested the Falcons were about to turn things around, think again. Atlanta played a back-and-forth game against the Detroit Lions where the Falcons looked as good as their plus-.500 opponent. Atlanta even took the lead late in the game, but it came at a cost. Running back Todd Gurley saw the writing on the wall and attempted to go down before scoring to allow the Falcons to take more time off the clock. It didn’t quite work out that way because this game was truly a testament to Atlanta’s season. Ultimately, there was too much time left on the clock for one of the NFL’s best comeback quarterbacks in Matthew Stafford to do what he does best. The Falcons lost 23-22 as Stafford had a time-expiring touchdown.
The Falcons very well could be at least 3-4 right now, tied with the Panthers and not entirely out of the race for a playoff spot in this year’s extended postseason. Instead, mental mistakes cost the team two wins and now, making the playoffs is all but a pipe dream. In fact, as it stands, the Falcons are actually very much alive for the first overall draft pick, which could net them Trevor Lawrence, the premiere college quarterback of this year’s draft class.
Moving on from Matt Ryan isn’t necessarily in the Falcons’ plans but it is something to consider despite just how well the signal caller is playing this year. Ryan leads all NFL passers in passing yards with 2,181 and has a great touchdown to interception ratio of 12 to 3. Ryan is no longer the young, up-and-coming player he once was. His arm is still strong and accurate but the man is 35 so Atlanta, whether sooner or later, will have to start thinking about the future.
There are often questions in sports these days regarding tanking and if it is ultimately worth the price. For the Falcons, the thing is, they aren’t doing this intentionally. It may seem crazy to say given some of their losses were more than avoidable, but Atlanta came into this season thinking they could win and having the weapons to do so. Calvin Ridley has six receiving touchdowns and Gurley has seven on the ground. The pieces are there and the throws have been there. The record just hasn’t quite worked out how Atlanta had hoped to this point.
The Falcons are still an on-paper good team. Unlike some of the league’s worst such as the winless New York Jets, who have been tanking for Trevor before the season even began, the Falcons are a good football team that has just fallen on some rough losses. Where the Falcons go from here remains to be seen. They likely won’t see results this season but one never knows. A win against the Panthers could well change how this team approaches the second half of the 2020 season.
Carolina’s Identity: Are They Good or Bad?
The Panthers’ 2020 season has had its fair share of question marks. Behind the up-and-down Teddy Bridgewater, Carolina has at times looked really good, but at others, not good at all. The team’s identity is questionable right now and it is likely for that reason, that the Panthers aren’t huge favorites over their divisional rivals. Despite having already defeated them once this season. Now, to be fair to Carolina, they had a tough schedule to open up the year. After opening at home against the Las Vegas Raiders, the Panthers hit the road to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Los Angeles Chargers, before taking on the Arizona Cardinals.
Those teams have a combined 15-11 record and the Panthers emerged from that stretch with a .500 record themselves. That was about as good as Carolina could have expected to do and they followed that up with the win over the Falcons. The 3-2 Panthers must have felt pretty good but then Carolina lost to the Bears, who are not nearly as good as their record implies, and the New Orleans Saints, who have had the Panthers’ number for years.
Heading into today’s game, the Panthers are one game under .500 but still very much in the conversation for a playoff spot even if their schedule doesn’t get any easier. Carolina has to go on the road to face the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and then has another against the Buccaneers and Lions. They will get their bye before welcoming in the Denver Broncos but then back on the road to take on the Green Bay Packers. Three of those five remaining opponents are 100 percent headed to the playoffs with Lions still holding on to a chance. Carolina’s road to the postseason is not an easy one but should they make it, they will do so knowing they are a good team because they beat good opponents.
Our Preview’s Atlanta Falcons vs Carolina Panthers Predictions & Concluding Betting Picks
Despite the Falcons’ record, the Panthers are just 2 or 2.5-point home favorites in this one with the U.S. sports gambling websites. That goes to show what was said above, that Atlanta is better than their record dictates. Plus, this is a divisional game and those tend to bring out the best in both opponents. As divisional opponents, the Falcons and Panthers face twice a year but you would have to go all the way back to 2013 to find the last time Carolina won both contests. That said, these are the Falcons vs Panthers predictions for this betting preview: