Carolina @ Atlanta
Vegas: Atlanta -6
DomModel: Atlanta -2.306
Recommendation: Carolina +6
-S Keanu Neal tore his ACL in the opener. This is a tough loss for the Falcons. 2017 5th round pick Damontae Kazee will take his starting spot.
-LB Deion Jones (foot) was placed on IR. This is another huge loss for the Falcons
-RB Devonta Freeman (knee) is not practicing Wednesday (9/12)
-TE Greg Olsen re-injured his foot last game. He’s considered “month to month.”
-LB Luke Keuchly hyper-extended his knee last game, but says he’s “fine.” He practiced in full on Wednesday (9/12), so should be good to go.
-LB Thomas Davis is still suspended.
-OT Daryl Williams (knee) has been placed on IR.
When Atlanta has the ball:
I broke down the Falcons to start the season here. This is an elite offense all around: top tier QB, offensive line, receivers, and running backs. I focused a lot on their red zone offense and how I expect positive regression from last year. I still do, but maybe I didn’t give enough credit to how badly OC Steve Sarkisian sucks at calling plays.
That’s right Stark, I said it.
He was running jumbo packages against the best defensive line in football on the goal line twice. He took Julio Jones out of the game. Matt Ryan LOVES targeting Julio Jones in the red zone — because Julio Jones is fucking good at football — but that’s hard to do when Julio isn’t even in the game. I expect Stark to get better, but this team will struggle in the red zone until he figures his play calling out.
I wrote last week that Carolina has one of the best defenses in football, and I stand by that. They temporarily lost Luke Kuechly due to a hyper-extended knee last game, but he fully practiced on Wednesday (9/12), so he should be good to go. Last week, the Panthers held the Cowboys to 8 points.
TL;DR Conclusion: Atlanta is a much tougher test for Carolina, but we should view this as a top tier vs top tier matchup.
When Carolina has the ball:
Carolina has two key injuries working against them – Daryl Williams and Greg Olsen. Williams is their starting right tackle and will likely be replaced by Amini Silatolu. Silatolu was drafted by the Panthers in the 2nd round of 2012. He was let go by Carolina and signed by Chicago in 2016, then was cut and re-joined the Panthers in 2017. Last year Silatolu started 3 games, and didn’t fare particularly well. This is a big loss for a Carolina team that already had a bad offensive line.
I’m sure most of you reading know all about Greg Olsen. Behind Olsen on the depth chart is Ian Thomas, a 22 year old rookie out of Indiana that the Panthers took in the 4th round. Thomas is raw, but exciting. He runs a 4.6 40 at 6’4/260 which firmly puts him in the “freak of nature category.” Thomas also gained 15 yards per catch as a senior at Indiana (hint: that’s a lot). He’s naturally nowhere near Greg Olsen, but it’s good to see the Panthers have at least something in the works.
The Panther’s offense, especially without Williams and Olsen, is in the bottom third of the league. Cam Newton did have a decent start to the season despite not putting up major yardage or touchdown numbers. McCaffery continues to be a solid receiver, but poor rusher between the tackles. I expect more of that.
I wrote in the season opener preview that the Falcons have a lot talent on defense. I believed this could be the year they pulled it all together and turn out one of the better defenses in the league. Well, that’s probably no longer the case.
The Falcons safety Keanu Neal in the season opener. Neal is a big part of a Falcons secondary that struggled last year (they ranked 20th against the pass in DVOA).
Deion Jones is an even bigger loss. He’s a true “2018” style linebacker. He’s incredibly athletic and one of the better coverage linebackers in the league. The Falcons have given up the most completions to running backs in each of the last 3 years. A big part of that is their scheme – they have quicker linebackers who can close quickly and mitigate yardage gained on those throws. Jones is incredibly essential to what they do.
Unfortunately for the Falcons, they’ll likely continue to struggle as a defense.
TL:DR Conclusion: That stat about the Falcons giving up receptions to running backs is key against Christian McCaffrey. Jones and Neal are key losses to the Falcons defense, and I’m not sure the public is factoring that in enough.
It’s also worth noting that a lot of lines have moved this game to +5.5. Shop around until you can find +6. If that line isn’t available to you, don’t bet it.
That’s it for now, bitches.