Cam Newton is up to his old tricks again, and the Carolina Panthers are excited about their prospects. After dealing with an assortment of injuries last season, the thought was that Ron Rivera and new offensive coordinator Norv Turner would limit Cam’s rushing attempts. Well, it looks like that strategy is out the window. Newton had nearly as many carries and yards as Ezekiel Elliott in the opener and Carolina got off with a victory behind a strong defensive effort. Newton was the ninth leading rusher in the NFC last year and he takes his game to the Atlanta Falcons in a Week 2 NFC South battle.
This matchup in Week 2 of the regular season will take place on Sunday, September 16, 2018, at 1 p.m. at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
NFL Opening Odds at BookMaker.eu
Carolina Panthers +4.5
Atlanta Falcons -4.5
Despite their loss last week, the Falcons opened as a 4.5-point favorite against their division rival. The series has been evenly split since the start of the 2012 season with each winning six games and Atlanta has won the last three in Georgia going 3-0 ATS. The home team is getting 57 percent of the early money on a line that both sides like. Eight of the last 10 games have played below the closing total and the under is getting plenty of play on the current total of 44.
Keanu Neal – A huge blow to Atlanta’s secondary when it was learned Neal tore his ACL and is done for the year. The team’s first round pick in 2016, Neal has a reputation as a hard-hitter and elevated his game to Pro Bowl status last year when he had three forced fumbles, two recoveries and an interception. He was the Falcons leader in the back end and they will look for a replacement internally from Damontae Kazee, Jordan Richards and Brian Poole.
Greg Olsen – It doesn’t look good for a quick return after Olsen injured his foot and was seen in a walking boot after Carolina’s win over Dallas. Olsen has been Cam Newton’s top receiving threat for several years and his absence will affect the passing game. It was the same foot that forced Olsen to miss nine games last season, when he had a career-low 17 receptions. The Panthers became accustomed to not having him in the lineup after he averaged 80 catches in the previous three seasons.
With so much at stake for the Panthers, they turned in one of their ugliest performances of the year. It came down to the final regular season game with Carolina needing a win to claim the NFC South title, and the Falcons needed a victory to clinch a playoff spot. In the end it worked out for the division with three teams qualifying for the postseason for the first time. But for the Panthers it could have been much more. A victory would have given Carolina the division crown instead they settled for the first wild-card and a date in New Orleans.
It wasn’t that Carolina lost the game, rather how they lost it. Newton struggled against Atlanta’s pass rush, completing just 14 of 34 for 180 yards with three interceptions. He was also sacked twice and the Panthers managed just 248 total yards in the game. For as many weapons that were on the field, neither team managed much offensively. The Falcons benefitted from five Matt Bryant field goals to claim the victory.
Scoring a touchdown on half their red zone trips last season was unacceptable for the Falcons, who ranked 23rd in that category. Improving in the red zone was a priority for the coaching staff during the offseason and preseason. However, the woes continued in the opener when Atlanta was just 1 of 5, scoring nine points on those five red zone trips. Matt Ryan was 1 of 8 for 3 yards with an interception in the red zone and admitted he had a poor outing. No kidding!
Free ATS Pick
Problems that persisted last season were evident again in the opener for both teams. The Falcons couldn’t punch the ball in the end zone and Newton struggled with his accuracy. While the teams work out the kinks on offense, their defenses were rock solid, leading us to believe this is another matchup that could play below the total.
Atlanta has too many weapons on offense to struggle the way they have and I think they get their act together in front of the home fans. Plus, Newton has struggled on the road in this series and he won’t have Olsen as his security blanket. Go with the Falcons to win this game and cover the spread, but I don’t see the teams scoring enough points to cash the over.
NFL Betting Odds: Falcons 23, Panthers 13
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