Predictions & Projections
David Dorey
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*ARI at SEA *DAL at CIN *NO at NYG *STL at BUF
*Updated BAL at WAS KC at CLE PHI at TB HOU at NE (MON)

Prediction: ATL 27, CAR 20 (Line:ATL by 3.5)

Players Updated: Brandon LaFell

Players to Watch: Matt Ryan, Cam Newton

The 11-1 Falcons have already clinched their division and go to Carolina to face the 3-9 Panthers. This is a replay of week four when the Falcons won 30-28 over the Panthers. The Falcons needed two late fourth quarter field goals to win that game including a 40-yarder as time expired. Hard to grasp how close that game was two months ago.

Atlanta Falcons
Homefield: Georgia Dome
  Opp Score   Opp Score
1 @KC 40-24 10 @NO 27-31
2 DEN 27-21 11 ARI 23-19
3 @SD 27-3 12 @TB 24-23
4 CAR 30-28 13 NO 23-13
5 @WAS 24-17 14 @CAR -----
6 OAK 23-20 15 NYG -----
7 BYE ----- 16 @DET -----
8 @PHI 30-17 17 TB -----
9 DAL 19-13 ----- ----- -----
News | Statistics | Roster
ATL @ CAR Rush Catch Pass
QB Matt Ryan 270,2
RB Jacquizz Rodgers 20 5-40
WR Julio Jones 6-80,1
WR Roddy White 6-70
PK Matt Bryant 2 FG 3 XP

Pregame Notes: The Falcons have that winning attitude that translate into consistently playing opponents closely and yet always winning (-1). The remaining schedule is certainly no cakewalk but could end up with them winning out. The problem in the fantasy world is that the Falcons have a three game lead over all NFC teams. They could forfeit their final two games and still keep the #1 seed. That supposes they can beat these Panthers and the Giants next week. At 13-1, no other team could be better than 10-4 with two games left to play. That may spell major trouble in week 16 when so many fantasy leagues have championship games.

Matt Ryan passed for 369 yards and three scores in the previous meeting but he was chunking big yards and scores every week at the start of the season. Not so here lately when four of the last five games combined for only two touchdowns. The yardage has been decent enough with four straight games over 300 yards but then last week against the same Saints team he scorched with 411 yards and three scores in week 10, Ryan only passed for 165 yards and one touchdown. This week should help show if that was just one odd aberration or if there really is something to worry about.

One reason why Turner has been scoring less is that the rushing effort has been better in recent weeks. Michael Turner scored in four of the last five games though his yardage varies greatly. Turner ran for 103 yards on 13 carries in the previous meeting with the Panthers. Jacquizz Rodgers has been used more in recent weeks as well though he rarely produces more than 50 total yards and primarily acts as a third down back. Rodgers only ran for 18 yards versus the Panthers but added four catches for 40 yards in that game.

Tony Gonzalez is slowing down in what will be his final year. He scored last week and has seven touchdowns on the year but has really turned in lower games lately. Since week five, five of his games failed to reach 60 yards and and four different times he had no scoring and only around 30 yards. Gonzo posted five receptions for 51 yards in the last meeting with the Panthers.

Week four was the best game of the year for Roddy White who caught eight passes for 169 yards and two scores versus the Panthers. White has since only scored in one other game and comes off a season worst one catch for 20 yards against the Saints. Julio Jones only had one catch for 30 yards in week four but since been much better. Overall the wideouts for Atlanta started the season on hot streaks but have since really cooled off and thrown in several clunker games each. Jones typically has the big games on the road and White does it at home. This week will be a good test of that though the ease of rushing may encourage another run heavy attack like we saw last week against the Saints.

Gaining Fantasy Points ATL 6 17 8 4 3 19
Preventing Fantasy Points CAR 10 26 6 17 32 19

QB Matt Ryan, ATL CAR 20000032020 ***
Ryan has 300-plus yards in four straight and averages 311 and 2 at home; Carolina has given up multiple TD tosses in six of seven on the road. So with the NFC South title on the line expect an upgrade over his 268 and 1 against the Panthers back in Week 11.
RB Devonta Freeman, ATL CAR 4012200000 **
Freeman was the quality guy--eight touches, 84 yards and a touchdown--while Jaquizz Rodgers handled the quantity last week after Steven Jackson left the game with an injury. He's a tough start against a Carolina defense that hasn't allowed an RB TD since Week 10, but he's been the most effective of what Atlanta has left in the backfield and looks to be the guy on the field in the passing game.
RB Jacquizz Rodgers, ATL CAR 2003200000 ***
With Steven Jackson sidelined it was Rodgers who saw the largest share of carries, though he averaged less than three yards a carry. He'll likely find himself in a similar situation this week: a bevy of unproductive carries.
WR Julio Jones, ATL CAR 0081201000 ****
Jones has three straight 100-yard games, wrapped around the one game he missed due to injury, and he's scored in three of his last four as well. That string started after the Panthers held him to 59 yards in Week 11, but as hot as the Atlanta passing game--and Jones in particular--has been he's a must-start with the NFC South crown on the line.
Update: Jones practiced only on a limited basis Friday, and he's listed as questionable. With the NFC South on the line he'll likely find a way to play, and if he plays he needs to be in your lineup.
WR Roddy White, ATL CAR 007701000 ***
White has touchdowns in four of his last six, including the earlier meeting with Carolina. It's also worth noting that secondary receivers seem to have success against the Panthers--among them Jordan Matthews, Davante Adams, Brandon Tate, Torrey Smith, and Chris Owusu.
TE Levine Toilolo, ATL CAR 002200000 ***
The Panthers have softened against tight ends over the second half of the season, but Toilolo has done nothing to warrant fantasy consideration.
  Opp fgaFGMxpaXPM ConFac
K Matt Bryant, ATL CAR 2233 ***
Bryant is averaging 11 points per game over the past two months, a stretch that includes 13 against the Panthers in Carolina. Kicking for the NFC South title, indoors... you gotta like Bryant's chances here. Doesn't hurt that he's averaging a robust 12 points per game within his division.

Carolina Panthers
Homefield: Bank of America Stadium
  Opp Score   Opp Score
1 @TB 10-16 10 DEN 14-36
2 NO 35-27 11 TB 21-27
3 NYG 7-36 12 @PHI 30-22
4 @ATL 28-30 13 @KC 21-27
5 SEA 12-16 14 ATL -----
6 BYE ----- 15 @SD -----
7 DAL 14-19 16 OAK -----
8 @CHI 22-23 17 @NO -----
9 @WAS 21-13 ----- ----- -----
News | Statistics | Roster
CAR vs ATL Rush Catch Pass
QB Cam Newton 60,1 240,1
RB Jonathan Stewart 10 2-10
RB Mike Tolbert 10 2-10
RB DeAngelo Williams 50 2-10
TE Greg Olsen 6-70
PK Graham Gano 2 FG 2 XP

Pregame Notes: The Panthers come off a loss to the Chiefs which is something not many teams can say. The frustrating part all along has been that the Panthers are almost never blown out. Seven of their losses were by a touchdown or less. But they are consistently not quite good enough. The remaining home game against the Raiders offers a good shot at one more win but but there is no escaping that the Panthers are going to end up with a top ten draft pick if not top five.

Cam Newton started the season with a number of disappointing games but did manage to pass for 215 yards and two scores in Atlanta as well as rushing for a season high 86 yards and one score on nine runs. He's passed for multiple scores in three of the last four games while remaining above 230 yards in each. Considering his receiving crew has not been upgraded, the progress made has been all from Newton.

Back in week four, Jonathan Stewart (10-40) and DeAngelo Williams (11-49) combined for 89 rushing yards and one score by Williams. This meeting will be without Stewart who remains out with a bad ankle sprain that has not yet been given a timetable when he is expected to be back. Williams gets the start on his own but it only translated into 12 runs for 67 yards in Kansas City last week. This remains the #29 ranked running back attack regardless which backs are playing.

Greg Olsen figures to be a factor this week since he posted 89 yards and a score on six catches in the previous meeting with the Falcons. He remains good for at least 50 yards every week for over the last month as well. Brandon LaFell is likely out this week with a turf toe but had no catches in the last meeting. His absence could hurt since he had been improved in recent weeks with three touchdowns and three games over 70 yards.

That leaves Steve Smith even more alone and he only managed three receptions for 52 yards in week four. Smith comes off a season high 120 yards and a score in Kansas City but has languished with mostly 40 to 60 yard games and no scores in most weeks this year.

Gaining Fantasy Points CAR 8 29 23 13 32 9
Preventing Fantasy Points ATL 6 25 3 22 10 9

QB Cam Newton, CAR @ATL 40000026021 ***
Cam has multiple touchdowns in his last six against Atlanta, as well as multiple touchdowns in his last two sandwiched around his car crash. Most importantly, he's had a dozen rushes in each of those games, with 83 and 63 yards and a TD in each. And if he mixes in some passing stats against an Atlanta secondary that's allowed three straight 300 yard games--and 290-plus in eight straight--that's more than enough to be a significant fantasy helper this week.
RB Jonathan Stewart, CAR @ATL 8001100000 ***
Stewart has had three straight games of 20-plus carries, topping 120 rushing yards in two of them. He was the junior partner to DeAngelo Williams in the earlier meeting with Atlanta, but now he should be the primary ball-carrier against a defense that's allowed nine RB TDs in the past five games. And that, in turn, should yield fantasy production.
WR Kelvin Benjamin, CAR @ATL 0081102000 ***
Benjamin is the most heavily targeted Panther, with seven games of double-digit looks including four of the last five. And that stretch includes 9-109-1 against the Falcons, who don't seem any more able to shut him down than they did a month ago.
WR Jerricho Cotchery, CAR @ATL 004400000 ***
Being the number 2 to Kelvin Benjamin is like being Andrew Ridgley in Wham. Go ahead, Google it.
WR Philly Brown, CAR @ATL 002200000 ***
Only two secondary receivers have scored in the same game in which that team's WR1 also scored--and Brown is one of them. That said, his standard three targets per game make him an extreme fantasy risk.
TE Greg Olsen, CAR @ATL 007800000 ***
Olsen's 5-61 in the earlier meeting with Atlanta was the first time in six meetings with the Falcons in which he failed to find the end zone. He remains an every-week starter, but last week he didn't get his usual double-digit targets and the Falcons have allowed only three TE TDs all year so the matchup isn't doing him any favors.
  Opp fgaFGMxpaXPM ConFac
K Graham Gano, CAR @ATL 2222 ***
Gano has multiple field goal attempts in five straight, and even converted multiple field goals in three of those five. He mustered just five points in the earlier meeting with the Falcons, however, so keep those expectations in check.

*ARI at SEA *DAL at CIN *NO at NYG *STL at BUF
*Updated BAL at WAS KC at CLE PHI at TB HOU at NE (MON)

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