NFC South Showdown

Atlanta, GA - Carolina has been winning ugly against bad teams in recent weeks, but there wasn't much to criticize about the Panthers' performance when they met the Atlanta Falcons in September.

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In a matchup with one of their top competitors in the NFC South, the Panthers look to win their fourth straight road game against the Falcons when the teams conclude their season series Sunday.

Oddsmakers from SBG Global have made the Falcons -1 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 63% of bets for this game have been placed on the Panthers +1 (View NFL Football bet percentages).

Carolina (8-2) has won four in a row, leads the NFC South and appears to be in excellent position to end a two-year playoff drought. Though the Panthers have the third-best record in the NFL and have surpassed last season's win total, some are wondering how good they really are after barely managing to beat Oakland and Detroit the past two weeks.

Carolina defeated the winless Lions 31-22 on Sunday despite holding the ball for less than 26 minutes. The Panthers had the ball for less than 23 minutes in a 17-6 victory over the Raiders the previous week.

Carolina completed 17 passes combined in those two games, with three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Steve Smith getting held to seven receptions for 68 yards.

The Panthers' running game was dominant against Detroit and Jake Delhomme was turnover-free after throwing four interceptions against Oakland, but Carolina needed all of its team-record 264 rushing yards to overcome a suspect defensive performance.

Against Oakland, it was the Panthers' defense that bailed out a struggling offense.

"There are really not too many phases of our team right now where I think we've arrived," Carolina coach John Fox said.

The Panthers have allowed at least 130 yards on the ground in each of the last two games, and Lions rookie Kevin Smith rushed for 112 yards. He was just the second player to reach the 100-yard rushing mark against Carolina this season.

When the Panthers hosted the Falcons (6-4) on Sept. 28, however, Fox couldn't have had many complaints. Carolina held Atlanta's Michael Turner - at the time the NFL's leading rusher - to 56 yards on 18 carries, and the Panthers outgained the Falcons 401-268 in a 24-9 win.

Carolina, which leads Atlanta by two games in the division, has won three in a row on the road against its rival. The Falcons' last home victory against the Panthers came Dec. 18, 2004 by a 34-31 score.

One area of mild concern during September's lopsided win over Atlanta was Carolina's problems running the ball, as it averaged 3.2 yards on 33 attempts. The Panthers are averaging 4.4 yards per carry on the season and rank sixth in the NFL in rushing with 133.7 yards a contest.

Against Detroit, Jonathan Stewart rushed for 130 yards and a touchdown and DeAngelo Williams added 120 yards and two scores. The dominant ground game is something the Panthers had been trying to re-establish since Stephen Davis led Carolina to the Super Bowl five years ago.

While the Panthers have had success running the ball, Turner has continued to produce for the Falcons. He ranks third in the league with 971 rushing yards and has nine touchdowns.

Turner scored twice against Denver last week, but Atlanta lost 24-20. The defeat was the Falcons' first in five games at the Georgia Dome, where they have outscored opponents 148-99.

One of Turner's TDs came on a 28-yard run, but he gained just 81 yards on 25 carries with the Broncos stacking the line and daring rookie quarterback Matt Ryan to pass. The strategy worked, as Ryan threw an interception and didn't have a TD pass for the first time in six contests.

Falcons coach Mike Smith said his team has faced more eight- and nine-man fronts in recent weeks.

"People do not want us to be able to run the football," Smith said. "They're going to do anything they can to stop the run and force us to be one-dimensional and throw the football."

Ryan has had a strong first season, completing 59.7 percent of his passes for 2,159 yards with 11 touchdowns and six interceptions, but he turned in one of his worst games last week.

"We've got to recognize what the defense is doing to us and make adjustments," Turner said.

Atlanta needs to bounce back quickly, with three of its next four games against division opponents.

"We still control our own destiny," Falcons offensive tackle Todd McClure said. "We play them all one more time. We've just got to make it happen and then let the chips fall where they may."

Top Betting Trends:
All games in this series since 1992
ATLANTA is 13-12 against the spread versus CAROLINA since 1992
ATLANTA is 16-11 straight up against CAROLINA since 1992
18 of 26 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games over the last 3 seasons
CAROLINA is 3-2 against the spread versus ATLANTA over the last 3 seasons 
CAROLINA is 3-2 straight up against ATLANTA over the last 3 seasons 
4 of 5 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
All games played at ATLANTA since 1992
ATLANTA is 7-5 against the spread versus CAROLINA since 1992
ATLANTA is 9-4 straight up against CAROLINA since 1992
6 of 12 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games played at ATLANTA over the last 3 seasons.
CAROLINA is 2-0 against the spread versus ATLANTA over the last 3 seasons 
CAROLINA is 2-0 straight up against ATLANTA over the last 3 seasons 
1 of 2 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
Key Player Injuries
CAROLINA
[WR] D.J. Hackett missed last game, "?" - Knee - 10/26/08
[WR] Ryne Robinson IR - Knee - 10/08/08
[C] Ryan Kalil is upgraded to probable - Ankle - 11/05/08
[DL] Darwin Walker is downgraded to doubtful - Neck - 11/07/08
[LB] Dan Connor IR - Knee - 09/22/08
[OT] Jeff Otah is upgraded to probable - Ankle - 11/05/08
[RB] Jonathan Stewart is downgraded to doubtful - Heel - 11/06/08
[LB] Adam Seward missed last game, "?" - Thigh - 10/26/08
ATLANTA
[OT] Sam Baker out indefinitely - Back - 10/29/08
[RB] Thomas Brown IR - Leg - 08/30/08
[CB] David Irons missed last game, "?" - Achilles - 11/02/08
[CB] Von Hutchins IR - Foot - 07/28/08
[C] Alex Stepanovich missed last game, "?" - Back - 11/02/08

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Posted: 11/19/08 5:09 PM ET

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