The Atlanta Falcons (4-3) will play their first divisional game of the season on Sunday when they visit the Carolina Panthers (5-3) as small road underdogs at the sportsbooks. The Falcons started the season with three straight games against NFC North foes and then followed that with four in a row versus the AFC East.
Atlanta Falcons vs Carolina Panthers Live
NFL point spread: The Panthers opened as 1.5-point favorites; the total was 44 early in the week, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark. (Line updates and matchup report)
NFL betting pick, via OddsShark computer: 25.1-18.5 Panthers (NFL picks on every game)
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MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
–Falcons QB Matt Ryan vs. Panthers LB Luke Kuechly. These are two of the most notable former Boston College players in the NFL. Kuechly has been back for a full game and leads the Panthers with two interceptions this season. Ryan has been up and down, with his six interceptions thrown already one shy of his 2016 total. Expect Kuechly to try to be a factor in Carolina’s coverages.
–Falcons LT Jake Matthews vs. Panthers DE Julius Peppers. The Falcons have done a decent job of protecting Ryan but will face a stiff test from the Panthers. Peppers, 37, still has some gas left in the tank; he has 7.5 sacks in a designated pass-rushing role. He can still turn the corner and make days miserable for quarterbacks.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Falcons DT Ahtyba Rubin. Rubin played 21 of 61 (34 percent) of the defensive snaps against the Jets. He played mostly on run downs and came up with two tackles. The 310-pound veteran was stout in the middle of the defense and helped in the defensive tackle rotation. Grady Jarrett and Dontari Poe both played 47 snaps (77 percent).
PREDICTION: This game comes down to how the Panthers’ DBs can match up with the Falcons’ receivers, something at which they failed frightfully last year. The guess here is that last week’s rally in the rainy Meadowlands might have, at least for now, sparked a Falcons’ revival.