Free NFL Pick: Carolina at Atlanta 01-02-2011

January 1, 2011

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Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons

January 2nd, 2011 1:00 PM EST

Line: Atlanta -15

Overview:

The Carolina Panthers dismissed John Fox as the head coach, but he will be able to finish out this season. The Panthers are the worst team in the NFL this season and have locked up the number one overall pick. They are playing for virtually nothing, as jobs from a coaching stand point are no longer up in the air and they are set to finish with the worst record in the league this season.

As fate would have it, they are taking on the best team in the NFC on Sunday, on the road. The Atlanta Falcons sit atop the NFC with a 12-3 record. Unfortunately, they still have not locked up anything. The Saints are only one game back and would overtake the Falcons with an Atlanta loss and a New Orleans victory. It seems unlikely, given the circumstances, but stranger things have happened.

Keys to the Game:

  • Jimmy Clausen is playing for his job. While John Fox has sealed his fate, Clausen’s is still up in the air. Andrew Luck is coming out, which puts the Panthers in a conundrum. Do they go after a young stud or address needs elsewhere? Clausen has one final game to prove to Carolina that their greatest needs lie elsewhere. Sam Bradford showed just how big of an impact a rookie quarterback can have on a team even when there is little talent around him. It’s going to be hard for them to pass on luck, but a big time performance from Clausen to knock off the best team in the conference would help his cause.
  • Five of Roddy White’s first nine games were 100 yard performances. He hasn’t had one since. The downfall of Week 17 is that in a game like this, the favorite would likely sit their starters. With so much at stake, the Falcons are forced to leave their big names in the game. White plays a big role in the Atlanta passing game. He needs to gain some momentum going into the playoffs. The Falcons only have one legitimate receiver to throw the ball to, which could hurt them this month.

Key Matchup:

Michael Turner Vs. Carolina’s run defense

  • If Michael Turner outrushes Chris Johnson by 22 yards this week, he will more than likely be the third leading rusher in the NFL this season. Turner hasn’t rushed for 100 yards in his past two games, but expect him to snap that streak this week. He hasn’t gone three games without breaking the century mark all season long.
  • The Panthers don’t exactly have the most stout defense in the league. Jon Beason is a force in the middle, but they are lacking overall. The Panthers should struggle all game long at trying to keep Turner contained. They have made a habit out of getting run through, which is adds to the laundry list of problems that have landed them at the bottom of the league.

Wrap Up:

15 is a lot of points. The Panthers have lost by more than the given spread twice this season, so it is definitely possible that  they would drop this game. Atlanta is at home and playing for a playoff spot. John Fox is coaching his last game in Carolina, but that probably won’t have any effect on this game. Atlanta destroyed the Panthers last time they played and home field advantage won’t be much advantage at all this week for the Panthers.

Free NFL Pick: Atlanta -15


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