A must-win for the NFC’s top-ranked team against the team with the league’s worst record equals a 15.5-point spread — especially with the Atlanta Falcons having already beaten the Carolina Panthers by 21 in Charlotte. Oh, and the Falcons are 19-2 at home with Matt Ryan in the lineup. Man, 19-2 sounds a lot worse than 19-1 did.
The Falcons should be able to win comfortably, but more than two scores is kind of a huge line, and about as big as any you’ll ever see in the NFL. The average 2-13 team has long since given up, but this is the beauty of scheduling division games for the end of the season. Considering its likely John Fox’s last game as Panthers coach, you have to think the Panthers are going to be up for playing spoiler.
But will that matter? The Falcons are just about the league’s least mistake-prone team — that their two fumbles last night were so surprising is evidence of the reputation they’ve earned this year. Though they’ve had close calls, they’re built to avoid huge upsets.
And have the Falcons discovered the virtues of the blitz, or was New Orleans just unprepared for the sudden aggression? Carolina has the worst offense the league has seen since 2008, giving up more sacks than every team but the Chicago Bears. If the Falcons can get after Jimmy Clausen the way they did Drew Brees on Monday Night Football, expect to see some comedy.
Your over/under is right around 41, a very creative number as it’s the exact point total from Panthers-Falcons round one. Take the under — Carolina can’t score, and the Falcons tend to be satisfied with a two-score lead.