After a few weeks of National Football League action you would not have thought the Atlanta Falcons would be favored this week over the Carolina Panthers. The Falcons lost at home in their opener to the Philadelphia Eagles, 32-6. The Panthers beat the New York Jets on opening day and followed that victory with two more wins against the New Orleans Saints and Houston Texans.
The Falcons got blown out in second week action by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and lost their third game in four starts with a defeat to Washington following a narrow three point win over the hapless New York Giants.
Okay, after those two starts to their seasons, how do we end up with the Panthers getting points today in Atlanta?
Two reasons. First, the Panthers haven’t won since their third week triumph over the talent challenged Texans. And second, the Falcons have won three of their most recent four games. Atlanta followed their setback to Washington with victories over the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins.
Wait, the Falcons are now favored against the Panthers because they beat the Jets and Dolphins?
Here is the deal, I’m not sure what team is better when these two tangle at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium today, but I know which squad is in a better position motivationally to have their performance spiked.
The Panthers early success included having runningback Christian McCaffrey leading their offense with both rushing and pass catching yards. His injury, suffered in the Thursday night encounter with the Texans, coincides with the Panthers decline. A couple weeks ago, the Panthers put McCaffrey on the injured reserve list which means the earliest he could return to the Panthers lineup would be next week when Carolina hosts the New England Patriots.
In the meantime, without his explosive play out of the backfield, four-year veteran and first-year Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold has seen his game suffer. Last week, during a one-sided loss to the Giants at MetLife Stadium, head coach Matt Rhule pulled Darnold in the second half and replaced him with P.J. Walker.
Walker was undrafted after finishing his college career at Temple and was signed as a free agent by the Indianapolis Colts in 2017. Last year, he even spent time in the short lived XFL Football League, a second reincarnation of that circuit which was derailed by the virus.
Replacing Darnold with Walker is akin to taking a flat high performance tire off your Ferrari and substituting a mini that recommends holding speeds to less than 50 miles per hour. Ruhle didn’t allow this move to be interpreted as a quarterback controversy, explaining in the post game locker room that the move was just to see if he could spark his offense while Darnold remains the team’s starting quarterback.
Walker’s 3 for 14 passing and a quarterback ranking with a number that would be near freezing in fahrenheit terms, didn’t make the move back to Darnold difficult.
This is a good week for Darnold to be starting.
The Panthers quick start and surprise three wins to open their campaign has now motivationally been paid back. They go from a road favorite against the Giants last week to an underdog to the Falcons and the public is making Atlanta the second most bet game of the week.
When the public piles on an inferior team, that is a squad other than the league’s best, they ‘always’ lose.
The Falcons recent success and the Panthers decline is as much a product of good and bad situations from a motivational perspective as any discernible difference in talent between these two squads.
Today, the motivational factors all point one way, and it spells doom for the Falcons.
Qoxhi Picks: Carolina Panthers (+3) over Atlanta Falcons