NFC South Showdown

Last week, the Carolina Panthers were hoping the long-awaited reunion of Jake Delhomme and Steve Smith would give their offense a boost.

Instead, it never materialized and they suffered their first loss of the season.

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Delhomme and Smith hope to find their rhythm when the Panthers return home Sunday to meet the surprising Atlanta Falcons.

Oddsmakers from SBG Global have made Panthers -7 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 61% of bets for this game have been placed on Panthers -7 (View NFL Football bet percentages).

After accumulating 604 yards in winning its first two games of the year, Carolina (2-1) had just 204 in last Sunday's 20-10 loss to Minnesota.

Although the Panthers played against a solid Vikings' defense at the hostile Metrodome, most expected better in the first game Delhomme and Smith played together in 364 days.

Delhomme injured his right elbow in Carolina's 27-20 win over the Falcons on Sept. 23, 2007, and missed the final 13 games of the season after undergoing ligament-replacement surgery. Smith returned last Sunday after being suspended for the first two games for punching teammate Ken Lucas, but Delhomme and the three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver never really got on the same page.

The duo connected on a 16-yard pass on Carolina's first play from scrimmage, but did little after that. Delhomme, who has just one touchdown on the season, finished 17-for-29 for 191 yards, while Smith had four receptions for 70 yards.

The running game also never got going against Minnesota. DeAngelo Williams had 10 carries for 27 yards after rushing for 117 on 29 attempts in his first two games, while Jonathan Stewart finished with 15 yards on seven carries after gaining 130 on 24 attempts in his first two.

"There's not a phase of our team where I think we've arrived," coach John Fox said. "I think we've improved in some areas. We've still got areas to grow. I don't think there are too many coaches in the league that are ready to say they've arrived, and I'm definitely not one of them."

Penalties have also been a major area of concern for Fox, as Carolina committed 12 last Sunday. The Panthers' 28 penalties are tied for the league lead, and in the past two weeks they've been flagged for a false start 11 times.

"The false start penalties are bothersome. That's something that you should be able to fix," Delhomme said. "We had a ton here at home, which is very disappointing."

While the Panthers seem to be in a bit of a rut, their upcoming schedule should help them get on track. Carolina plays five of its next seven at home, a stretch that includes matchups against Kansas City, Detroit and Oakland.

The Falcons (2-1) have already taken advantage of playing two of those teams.

Atlanta is halfway to its win total from a year ago, but both of those victories have come at home against the hapless Chiefs and Lions.

After losing at Tampa Bay 24-9 on Sept. 14, the Falcons jumped out to a 24-0 second-quarter lead en route to a 38-14 victory over Kansas City last Sunday.

Michael Turner rushed for 104 yards and had the first three-touchdown game of his career against the Chiefs. After spending four years in San Diego backing up LaDainian Tomlinson, Turner is thriving as a lead back. He set a Falcons record with 220 yards rushing in their season-opening 34-21 win over Detroit, and has 366 yards and five touchdowns on the season.

"It wears on a defense to have running backs bounce off tackles play after play," rookie quarterback Matt Ryan said. "Michael is great with that aspect because he has the will to not go down. He has the ability to get to the secondary off broken tackles and rack up yards. It takes a toll on the defense."

In addition to trying to shut down Turner, Carolina, which is allowing an average of 113.0 rushing yards per game, will also be keyed on frustrating Ryan and getting him out of sync.

After the Falcons established their running game against Kansas City, Ryan was able to get comfortable, and finished 12-for-18 for 192 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. When Turner was limited to 42 yards on 14 attempts against the Buccaneers, though, Ryan also struggled.

Playing on the road may also hinder Ryan. He is 21-for-31 for 353 yards and two touchdowns in his two home wins, but was just 13-for-33 for 158 yards and two interceptions in the road loss.

The road team, however, has won the last five games in this series.

ATLANTA is 13-11 against the spread versus CAROLINA since 1992
ATLANTA is 16-10 straight up against CAROLINA since 1992
17 of 25 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL since 1992

Games over the last 3 seasons
CAROLINA is 2-2 against the spread versus ATLANTA over the last 3 seasons 
CAROLINA is 2-2 straight up against ATLANTA over the last 3 seasons 
3 of 4 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons

All games played at CAROLINA since 1992
CAROLINA is 6-6 against the spread versus ATLANTA since 1992
ATLANTA is 7-6 straight up against CAROLINA since 1992
11 of 13 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL since 1992

Games played at CAROLINA over the last 3 seasons.
ATLANTA is 2-0 against the spread versus CAROLINA over the last 3 seasons 
ATLANTA is 2-0 straight up against CAROLINA over the last 3 seasons 
2 of 2 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons

[C] Alex Stepanovich upgraded to probable. - Back - 09/16/08
[CB] Von Hutchins IR - Foot - 07/28/08
[DT] Grady Jackson missed last game %27?%27 - Knee - 09/14/08
[S] Lawyer Milloy is %27?%27 - Possible Suspension - 09/15/08
[RB] Thomas Brown IR - Leg - 08/30/08
[OT] Sam Baker is upgraded to probable - Head - 09/15/08

[CB] Chris Gamble is "?" - Arm - 09/17/08
[LB] Na'il Diggs is "?" - Shoulder - 09/17/08
[WR] Ryne Robinson missed last game, %27?%27 - Knee - 09/14/08
[G] Travelle Wharton missed last game, %27?%27 - Knee - 09/14/08
[QB] Matt Moore is out 4-6 weeks. - Leg - 09/03/08

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