The Week 2 NFL schedule brings us a critical early-season game in the NFC South as the Carolina Panthers visit the Atlanta Falcons. Game time is set for 1:00 EST on Sunday, September 16, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The game can be seen on Fox in local markets.
The Falcons are listed as 5-point favorites at home, although that line has declined slightly after opening at -5.5. The game also has an over/under of 44.5 points. Click here to see all of this week’s NFL betting odds.
Atlanta is hoping to avoid getting off to a 0-2 start after dropping their opener to the Eagles. The Falcons were far from perfect but played reasonably well against a tough team on the road and were in a position to win the game late. But the Atlanta defense couldn’t make one final stand in the 4th quarter, allowing their 12-10 lead to turn into an 18-12 loss. Falling to 0-2 on the season wouldn’t be a complete disaster, but it would put them in an early hole inside the brutally difficult NFC South.
Carolina, meanwhile, is hoping to get out ahead of the pack in the NFC South by starting 2-0. The Panthers were able to grind out a 16-8 win over the Cowboys in Week 1. It wasn’t exactly pretty for Cam Newton and company, but their running game and stout defense proved good enough to start the season with a win.
Obviously, these two teams have developed a rather intense rivalry over the years. The Falcons and Panthers split their two meetings last season with both teams winning at home. However, Atlanta has won four of the last five head-to-head meetings, including a pair of wins by double-digit margins during the 2016 season.
Even in Week 2, this matchup could turn into a game of attrition, as both teams suffered serious injuries coming out of Week 1. Most notably, the Panthers have lost key guys on offense while the Falcons suffered some heavy losses on defense. However, with a little extra time to prepare and the home-field advantage to help, I’ll swallow a few points and lean toward Atlanta to cover the spread.
As mentioned, Carolina’s offense put forth a rather ugly effort against the Cowboys in Week 1. The Dallas defense isn’t completely inept, but I thought the Panthers would have enough weapons around Newton to do better than 16 points. They also failed to reach 300 total yards for the game, so there is definitely a lot of room for improvement. Newton only completed seven passes to his wide receivers, relying a little too much on short throws to Christian McCaffrey. He was also the team’s leading rusher, which isn’t a surprise but not necessarily ideal.
Things have been further complicated with the loss of tight end Greg Olsen, as well as offensive tackles Daryl Williams and Matt Kalil. Starting guard Trai Turner is also listed as questionable, so the Panthers could be without three starters along the offensive line. Obviously, that could be a serious problem for the Carolina offense, especially on the road. The Panthers already rely on Newton a little too much, and without a competent offensive line in front of him, he’ll be under even more pressure. Bottom line, I’m not sure if the Carolina offense can be relied upon to score too many points this week.
The Atlanta defense, meanwhile, has lost both safety Keanu Neal and linebacker Deion Jones to injuries. Those are two of their most important defensive players. The loss of Jones is particularly troubling, as it leaves rookie Foyesade Oloukun to start at middle linebacker. The absence of Jones could potentially be the lifeline Carolina’s offense needs to get going.
On the other side of the ball, the Panthers won last week behind a strong effort from their defense. But I’m skeptical if they’ll be able to repeat that kind of performance this week. The Panthers tallied six sacks last week, but they did it against a Dallas offensive line that was missing some key pieces. Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott also isn’t a grave threat with his arm. That probably won’t be the case for the Panthers this week against Matt Ryan.
To be fair, the Atlanta offense sputtered last week, something that has become a trend under offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. However, a lot of teams are going to struggle this year against the Philadelphia defense, especially on the road. Being at home in a more controlled environment should help Ryan and the Falcons get going. Julio Jones remains a constant threat after his 10-catch performance last week. Also, the extra time off may allow the Falcons to get rookie Calvin Ridley more involved in the offense, giving the Falcons another deep threat.
All things considered, I’m having a hard time getting past Carolina’s banged up offensive line. It’s such a critical component of the game, especially for a team like the Panthers that needs to run the ball. On top of that, the Panthers are just 1-7 in their last eight road games against division opponents. Ultimately, I think Carolina’s offense will struggle, making it a little easier for the Falcons to score enough points to win by at least a touchdown and cover the spread.