The Panthers can clinch the NFC South with a win over their hosts the Atlanta Falcons but where does the value lie in our NFL odds between these two divisional rivals on Sunday?
Carolina Panthers (11-4 SU, 9-5-1 ATS)
The Panthers are on the precipice of clinching the NFC South division and all they have to do is win their 11th game in their last 12 tries. That's all? Oh and did you also know they have a record against the all-important number of 8-2-1 during this current winning streak? If the Panthers have been part of your NFL picks then you have my congratulations and your wallet thanks you as well.
Last week Cam Newton and his merry band of Panthers laid waste to their closest divisional rival, the New Orleans Saints, by the score of 17-13 in front of a raucous, rain-soaked Carolina crowd. The conditions were far from ideal from an offensive standpoint and that point was driven home when Cam Newton failed repeatedly, passing for a mere 116 yards throughout the game except for the last minute when it really counted. Newton had only 55 seconds to work with and 65 yards to the endzone.
Trailing 13-10 the game plan was to get within field goal range to tie the score, sending it into overtime. But Newton launched three completed passes with the last being a 14 yard endzone strike to the little known Domenik Hixon. Cam Newton demonstrated he can be clutch even on days when he's just not that good. And that's the sign of a true champion.
Atlanta Falcons (4-11 SU, 6-9 ATS)
Atlanta has been the most disappointing team in the NFL this season with the Houston Texans running a close second. But they stood tall in the first-half of their game against the 49'ers last week at The Stick. When the teams left the field at halftime the Falcons were leading 10-3 but nobody in an Atlanta uniform or watching in their Falcons gear was even remotely comfortable with that lead. There was an entire half left and they were playing one of the best teams in the business in their own house.
Alas, it was not to be as the Falcons fought hard but were outscored 31-14 in the second-half en route to a 34-24 road defeat. But for those who grabbed the 13 or so points that most offshore books were dealing on Atlanta, they at the very least came away from the game cashing a ticket. Another reason for Falcons fans to smile was the monster performance by Roddy White who has been either sidelined with an injury or playing through pain the entire season. His absence and the season ending injury to Julio Jones did irreparable harm to Atlanta's chances of success this season but his 12 catches for 141 yards against a defense like San Francisco's has to give even the most dejected Falcons fan a ray of hope for next year.
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Free NFL Pick:
I hate to be that guy who lays points on the road. It's a move tailor made for rookies and squares. The public is going to view the Panthers as the team to beat while the Falcons are the team prone to defeat. I can't shake this view from my head even if there's a little voice gnawing at me for laying the lumber on the highway.
But here's my rationale. Although the Niners have a formidable defense their defensive front does not put a great deal of pressure on the quarterback. The Panthers on the other hand bring it early and often. They sacked Drew Brees six times last week which is the most he had been sacked this entire season. They trail only the Bills in sacks and if the Atlanta passing game cannot get off then it's over and out.
Matt Ryan will not be able to connect with Roddy White like he did last week. The Falcons will have to run but that strategy will be abandoned once the Panthers shred their woeful defense and start racking up the points. Oh, and if they do decide to run, since when can they run? They are ranked dead last in rushing yards which will go nowhere fast against the second best run stop unit in the league today.
NFL Picks: Panthers -6 (-120 on the buy) at Bet365.com