Carolina @ Atlanta
Recommended Wager: ATL -2.0
Carolina Panthers: (Week 13 bye)
-G Dennis Daley (ankle) was INACTIVE weeks 1 – 4. He returned to practice as limited for the first time this year ahead of week 4. He is not practicing in full and should return.
-LT Russell Okung (groin) was INACTIVE weeks 3 and 4. He has been cleared to return week 5.
-CB Eli Apple (hamstring) was injured week 4. He had previously been out weeks 1-3 with a hamstring injury. He is OUT after not practicing all week.
IR: RB Christina McCaffrey (ankle — short term)
Atlanta Falcons: (Week 10 bye)
-WR Julio Jones (hamstring) returned to play week 4, but reinjured his hamstring. He did not practice Wednesday/Thursday.
-DE Takk McKinley (groin) was INACTIVE weeks 3 and 4. He did not practice leading up to week 4, but is limited ahead of week 5.
-CB AJ Terrell (COVID-19) has been added back to the active roster.
-S Ricardo Allen (elbow) was injured week 2 and INACTIVE weeks 3 and 4. He’s returned to practice for the first time since the injury as limited.
-S Keanu Neal (hamstring) was INACTIVE week 4 after not practicing all week. He is practicing this week as limited.
-S Jaylinn Hawkins (concussion) was injured week 4. He did not practice Wednesday/Thursday.
-K Younghoe Koo (right groin) was INACTIVE week 4, but is back to practicing in full.
IR: CB Darqueze Dennard (hamstring), S Damontae Kazee (Achilles)
Line watching: The line opened at a sky high 3.5. It was bet down to 2 when the model grabbed it, and it’s now at 1.5.
The Panthers offense isn’t as impressive as what you have in your head. Despite the big names, they’re still just 20th in Football Outsider’s DAVE ranking. Though Teddy Bridgewater is completing 73% of his passes, his average depth of target is only 6.9, 5th lowest in the league (i.e., it’s easy to complete passes when you aren’t throwing the ball very far). PFF has also deemed 4.91% of his passes “turnover worthy” (that’s high), and has given him a grade of 64.8. The offensive line has been strong at the tackle spot, especially since Russell Okung will play, but their interior is extremely weak. At receiver, Robby Anderson has been showing he’s much more than just a deep threat — the Panthers have featured him in a lot more intermediate type routes, allowing him to get yards after the catch. he’s first on the team in targets with 31, while DJ Moore is second at 31. RB Mike Davis, who is filling in for an injured Christian McCaffrey, is third with 23. Davis isn’t McCaffrey, but his play certainly has made the injury not hut the Panthers nearly as much as you’d think. The defense, meanwhile, is downright pitiful. They rank 32nd in DAVE and 30th in DVOA. Outside of Brian Burns (13 pressures), they have virtually zero pass rush. Their linebackers are both terrible, and they don’t have a single player in the secondary with a PFF grade above 70.
The Falcons may be 0-4, but the expectation given preseason projections and overall talent on the offense is they’re much better than that. Not to mention that they’ve somehow blown two separate two score leads in the 4th quarter this year. Their offensive DVOA puts them at 21st in the league, but DAVE (which is factors in preseason projections) puts them at 10th. They’re also 20th in EPA and 23rd in PFF grades. Essentially, we’re banking that the offense is better than the small sample stats would indicate. If there’s ever a place to get back on the right track, it’s against the Panthers. Matt Ryan is having another solid season – he’s completing 64.7% of his passes while gaining 7.5 yards attempt and has done a decent job keeping the ball out of harms way. Julio Jones is unlikely to suit up for this one after re-aggravating his hamstring, but Calvin Ridley has been one of the better receivers in football. Despite a catchless week 4, he’s 6th in the league in targets (35), 8th in yards (349), and 15th in PFF grade (79.1). Russell Gage (26 targets) has also been solid out of the slot, while TE Hayden Hurst (20 targets and 2019 UDFA Olamide Zaccheaus (16 targets) have chipped in as well. The offensive line is also a unit that projects better than their playing, but getting RT Kaleb McGary back should help them develop into a solid line moving forward. They’ll be blocking for Todd Gurley and Brian Hill, who have gained 3.9 and 4.9 yards per carry, respectively.
The defense, on the other hand, is dreadful and projected to be dreadful. In the word of the great Dennis Green, “they are what we thought they were.” The lone part of their defense that isn’t horrendous is the pass rush, lead by Grady Jarrett, who continues to be one of the best interior pass rushers in football (14 pressures this year). 2nd year player John Cominsky (9 pressures) will also occasionally get there with Jarrett on the inside, while Dante Fowler (9 pressures) and Tak McKinley (8 pressures in 2 games) generate pressure from the outside. Deion Jones is supposed to be an uber-athletic linebacker who excels in coverage, but he’s struggled in that area. QBs have a 107.8 passer rating when targeting him, good for a 55.8 PFF coverage grade. The secondary is banged up (particularly at the safety position), and the corners haven’t been great either. They do get back rookie AJ Terrell, who had to sit out a few games due to some mysterious illness called “COVID-19.”
This is exactly the type of bet I love to make. Take the 0-4 team that realistically should be 2-2 if not for horrendous 4th quarter collapses. Take the team that is out performing their expectations early in the season. It’s a perfect “fade the public bet” backed by a model. Let’s do it.