NFL Thursday Night Football: Panthers/Falcons Preview

by Alec McMordie

The Thursday Night Football game on Fox is a battle of two NFC South teams moving in opposite directions.

The Carolina Panthers have been one of the surprises in the NFL this season under rookie NFL head coach Matt Rhule. Despite not having the benefit of a regular offseason given COVID, the former Baylor head coach has made the transition to the NFL successfully as the Panthers have pulled off three upset victories already this season. All four of Carolina’s losses have been to teams who have winning records.

The Panthers come into this game looking to rebound from a 27-24 loss at New Orleans as a touchdown underdog. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater completed 23 of 28 passes against his former team for 254 yards with touchdown passes. Bridgewater has been everything this franchise hoped for when he signed as a free agent in the offseason. He is completing 72.2% of his passes for 1930 yards while ranking 6th with an 8.2 yards per attempt average. Bridgewater is leading an offense that is 11th in the NFL by averaging 263.7 passing yards per game.

Carolina has needed to lean on their passing attack, given the high ankle sprain injury to Christian McCaffrey. The star running back had generated 223 total yards from scrimmage in seven quarters before suffering that injury. Rhule has indicated that he is hopeful that perhaps McCaffrey can return to action this week.

The Panthers have had to deal with their share of injuries. They have placed Pro Bowl co-captain defensive tackle Kawann Short along with rookie defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos and strong safety Juston Burris on Injured Reserve. In addition to the six players that have on IR, Carolina has three players out on the COVID list. The offensive line is also banged up, with Russell Okung and John Miller listed as questionable for this game, along with Michael Schofield III on the COVID list.

Atlanta lost their third game this season where ESPN’s win probability crossed the 98% threshold on Sunday in their 23-22 upset loss to Detroit. The Falcons had the game seemingly locked-up when Todd Gurley rushed for a first down inside the Lions’ ten-yard line, but the running back could not stop his forward momentum as he landed on the ground inadvertently crossing the goal line. The blunder gave Matthew Stafford a final opportunity to lead his team back. He threw a touchdown pass to tight end T.J. Hockenson on the final play with no time left on the clock to win the game for Detroit.

Atlanta also blew big fourth-quarter leads to Dallas and Chicago this season. The Falcons have suffered four upset losses. The Atlanta defense has let them down as they are allowing their opponents to score 29.6 points along with 425.9 yards per game. The Falcons are second-to-last in the league by allowing 333 passing yards per game. They are dead last by allowing their opponents to average 8.46 yards per play.

Matt Ryan has been doing his part to win games for Atlanta. He leads the NFL with 2181 passing yards. The 35-year old veteran is completing 66.4% of his passes with 12 touchdown passes and only three interceptions. Wide receiver Julio Jones has missed some time with a hamstring injury, but he is not on the injury report this week. The Falcons have two players on the COVID list and one player on IR, which has depleted their depth on defense.

This game is a rematch of the October 11th meeting between these two teams in Atlanta. The Panthers raced out to a 20-0 lead before hanging on to win by a 23-16 score. That result was the final straw for Falcons’ owner Arthur Blank who fired head coach Dan Quinn along with general manager Thomas Dimitroff soon afterward. Raheem Morris will be coaching his third game with the interim tag for Atlanta looking to avenge that loss.

BookMaker lists Carolina as a 2.5 point favorite with the total set at 51.5. Kickoff is at 8:20 PM ET.

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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