Atlanta Falcons @ Carolina Panthers: Falcons flapping through another lost season

Matt Ryan
Matt Ryan's Atlanta have seen another campaign fall to pieces in a series of stunning losses

The Atlanta Falcons are hoping to bounce back from another embarrassing loss on Thursday night against the Panthers, but Mark Kirwan isn't backing it...

"Last Sunday's 23-22 failure against the Lions had a novel quality in this run of shocking losses because the crucial mistake was the Falcons scoring a touchdown."

Atlanta Falcons @ Carolina Panthers
Friday, 01:30
Live on Sky Sports NFL

Falcons fail again

Week seven brought another desperate loss for the Atlanta Falcons, a team that specialises in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. They threw away a 28-3 lead in Super Bowl LI and collected several similar "impossible to lose" defeats in recent seasons, including a pair of catastrophic bottle-jobs in Weeks two and three of this campaign.

Those results led to the firing of coach Dan Quinn and GM Thomas Dimitroff. Unfortunately, snapping the team's tendency to crater under pressure won't been as simple as paying off their contracts.

Last Sunday's 23-22 failure against the Lions had a novel quality in this run of shocking losses because the crucial mistake was the Falcons scoring a touchdown.

Yes, you read that correctly - the mistake was scoring. Atlanta's running back Todd Gurley stumbled into the end zone by mistake, a score that gave possession back to Detroit when his team wanted to run the clock down and kick a go-ahead field goal to win.

When the Lions got the ball back they marched over Atlanta's defence to score a TD as time expired and won the game with the extra point.

It was a flop to match both the Bears and Cowboys' losses and underlines the sense that the Falcons need to change pretty much everything to have a chance of competing again.

Their defence hasn't been up to standard, even when the team was challenging for Super Bowls, and despite plenty of investment.

Their offence is still led by Matt Ryan, who is still capable of getting the job done with Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley catching passes, but the years of near-misses and blown opportunities would make you wonder if it wouldn't be better to cash-in the talent they have and rebuild.

It should've happened in the 2020 offseason, but the team rallied after a 1-7 start to finish 7-9 last season and saved coach Quinn for 2020's opening 0-5 streak.

Sunday's loss was another emotionally draining experience for a team barracked by similar in recent seasons. Thursday night could be viewed as too soon for a team that must be psychologically shattered.

Panthers prowl

Their NFC South rivals from Charlotte are a couple of steps ahead in their own reconstruction.

It stems from their change of owner. David Tepper, a hedgefund billionaire, took over the team in 2018 and has taken his time to assess the organisation and make changes.

Ron Rivera, the coach who led them to a Super Bowl appearance, was moved on, and with him went the face of the franchise, Cam Newton.

In came one of the hottest young coaches in college football, Matt Rhule, and Teddy Bridgewater, a QB with an inspiring recovery story following a terrible knee injury when with Minnesota.

They were supposed to be in the mix for the worst record on the league given the turnover on their coaching staff and roster - Greg Olsen at tight end, Luke Kuechly at linebacker and James Bradberry at cornerback were just some of the other notable departures - but they've played above those expectations.

You might think that meant running back Christian McCaffrey had put the team on his back, but the powerful runner has missed all but two of their games, both losses.

Instead, Mike Davis became their ground threat during a three-game winning streak that saw them beat the Chargers, Cardinals and this week's opponents, the Falcons, to put themselves in the conversation for their division.

However, they've lost to the Bears and Saints since with Davis' almost six-yards-per-carry rushing rate during their three wins curtailed in their more recent games.

The word is that McCaffrey could return for this game, but it seems unlikely given the nature of his injury - a high ankle sprain - and that, despite their strong opening under the new coach, this is still a down year for the franchise. There's little to be gained by risking the health of their best player.

The Picks

Both of these teams look to control the game on the ground, and the divisional factor, plus that they played just three weeks ago, means they're familiar with each other's likely gameplans.

Carolina's offence has tailed off in recent weeks. Atlanta's weak defence is an X factor because they can meltdown, especially if a few injuries hit during the game, but I'd rather be on under 49 at 1.981/1.

I'd expect Carolina to win, but don't like the 2.5 handicap they're being asked to cover, so I think it's better to look at them to win by 1-13 points in the Winning Margin market at 13/8.

For a touchdown interest, McCaffrey is listed by the traders, and if he plays he's the likeliest to get a score (or two), but I don't like taking that chance as his injury situation is too vague right now.

Instead, I'd prefer to take an Oddsboost price on Robby Anderson. He's the Panthers' number two receiver behind DJ Moore and has seen plenty of targets this season. They haven't come in the endzone, where he only has one score, but if there's a defence to put that right against, it's Atlanta. I'd take the Oddsboost price currently on site of 11/1, up from 9/1, for him to get the first score of the game.

I also think Teddy Bridgewater is too big a price in Anytime and First TD markets. He showed his slick running skills against Arizona in Week 4, and is averaging over three attempts per game on the ground, and had a season-high eight rushes two weeks ago against the Bears, where he registered 48 yards, another 2020 best mark. 4/1 to score and 22/1 to score first is very tempting.

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