The Panthers were made to work hard for a Week 16 win by Tampa Bay, with a last minute Cam Newton touchdown securing the 22-19 win. The Panthers offense never really got going, managing just 255 yards all day and barely edging time of possession. A big reason was their inability to convert on third-downs, going just four for 13. However, three turnovers from the Bucs kept giving them another chance, and eventually it was just too much.
The Falcons had a shot to win the NFC South if they had only beaten the Saints last week, unfortunately it wasn’t to be and they fell 23-13. The Falcons could not get their run game on track, with Devonta Freeman struggling his way to just 36 yards on 11 carries. Matt Ryan tried to carry the load himself, throwing for 288 yards, but despite some heroics from Julio Jones it wasn’t to be.
Winner takes it all
The Panthers can win the NFC South if they win and the Saints lose. Atlanta can secure a playoff spot with a win, but if they lose Seattle can leapfrog them for the #6 seed. While the Panthers are able to absorb a loss thanks to already securing a playoff spot, no one wants to head into wildcard weekend on the back of a loss to a divisional foe. Both these sides will be going all-out to win.
All on the ground
The Panthers are rediscovering the formula that carried them to Super Bowl 50. Some option looks, a lot of Jonathan Stewart, and Cam Newton creatin magic with his feet. The addition of Christian McCaffrey is only serving to make the offense harder to read. Meanwhile, the only consistent and reliable piece of the Falcons offense has been Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman’s rushing. Which ever team can best establish themselves on the ground will have a big advantage when it comes to controlling the flow of the game.
Matchup to Watch: Christian McCaffrey vs Deion Jones/Keanu Neal
McCaffrey has caught a ridiculous 75 passes so far, and while he is only picking up 8.1 yards a catch, he is a chain mover and a consistent option for Newton. Too many teams have been caught out by the whole team focusing on the rookie back, the Falcons will need their young stars at middle linebacker and strong safety to do much of the work tracking and tackling McCaffrey so that the rest of the defense can focus on their own responsibilities.
Fantasy Tip: Panthers WR Devin Funchess
While his last two games were extremely disappointing, Funchess has shined since Kelvin Benjamin was traded and is a threat to rack up catches and yards nearly every game. If you are looking for a lower cost option in DFS leagues then Funchess could be your guy.
Betting Tip: Panthers (+4)
Carolina are the better team, but Atlanta need to win. That’s a tough combination to weigh up, but with New Orleans playing at the same time as this game, the Panthers won’t be able to sit their stars. Take the points.
Prediction: Falcons 26-23 Panthers
The Falcons will edge this one, but only just. There is little chance of a blowout either way, but the Panthers are a threat to win this one despite being on the road. Newton is playing well and the defense, especially up front, is playing very well. This should be a good game.
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