Thursday Night Football Preview — Will Falcons Find Creative Ways to Lose Again?

It looks on the surface as if the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers are going in drastically different directions. And we say that not just because of their records. There seems to be a different mood between the two teams, where the Falcons have found various ways to blow one game or another, and have to bear that psychological effect, while the Panthers have enjoyed exceeding expectations. These NFC South teams will do battle on Thursday night at 8:20 PM ET at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.

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In the Thursday Night Football betting odds posted on this game, the Panthers are the slight favorites:

Carolina Panthers -1.5
Atlanta Falcons +1.5

Over 51.5 points -110
Under 51.5 points -110

The Falcons, who lost games in very bizarre ways against Chicago and Dallas, which helped get coach Dan Quinn fired. And then they had another unfortunate ending for interim coach Raheem Morris when they scored TOO quick against Detroit and saw Matthew Stafford take the Lions down the field for a final, winning touchdown.

The story surrounding the Panthers this season has been the new blood coming into the picture. Matt Rhule, who had turned around programs at Temple and Baylor, go the head coaching job, and as offensive coordinator he brought in Joe Brady, who was largely responsible for a national title and a Heisman Trophy as he transformed LSU’s Joe Burrow. Cam Newton was let go and Teddy Bridgewater, who worked with Brady when they were both employed by the Saints, was signed to play quarterback. Now he’s a 72% passer, with a career that has been revived.

The glaring absence here has been Christian McCaffrey, perhaps the top dual purpose back in the NFL, who’s been sitting with a high ankle sprain. He was designated to come off injured reserve, but he is not slated to play. Even when he was healthy, Brady hadn’t even used him very much until deep into the third quarter of the opener against Las Vegas, so it’s clear this offense isn’t crippled without him, and when you take into account that McCaffrey may have meant more to his offensive unit than any other player in the league last year, that’s a big feather in Brady’s cap.

Over on the other side, Ryan leads the league in passing yards – he’s always been a pretty good “numbers” guy – and if you want to look at this optimistically, Atlanta may have played well enough to be 3-4 or even 4-3 rather than 1-6.

Their ability to win is going to be directly tied to their ability to move the ball, and it’s plausible to say that the Panthers have been a pretty surprising squad on the defensive side, where they have allowed just 6.2 yards per pass attempt. That is slightly less than the Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Not for nothing, but the Falcons, in this all-important category, has allowed 8.5 yards an attempt.

But let’s not be one-sided about this. Atlanta is allowing almost a full yard less per rush attempt. And they haven’t been all that bad up front, ranking sixth in Adjusted Line Yards and in the top-three in Stuff Rate. As we continue down the road of metrics, the Falcons, interestingly enough, are seventh-best in the league at forcing opponents off the field on a three-and-out, while Carolina is next to last.

I’m actually going to give the Falcons a slight fundamental edge here, so I might use them in a parlay. But the principal play is going to go on the total, and on that count, we’re going OVER, as these two QB’s should find the mark on about 70-73% of their passes.

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