Carolina Panthers vs. Atlanta Falcons Date and Time: Sunday, December 31, 2017, 4:25 p.m. ET Location: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA Opening NFL Odds: Falcons -3 Falcons vs. Panthers TV Coverage: FOX
The Saints are expected to win the NFC South, but with this game running concurrently, neither the Panthers nor Falcons will be sure of their fate. New Orleans' game at Tampa Bay shouldn't be all that much of a challenge, and a win would secure the division title.
If that's the case, Carolina will have nothing to play for in this game since it will have secured the No. 5 seed and will be visiting either the Saints or Rams in Wild Card weekend.
At that point, it would probably be up to Derek Anderson to play this game out for the Panthers since there would be no sense in risking Cam Newton for any longer than he has to be. If the Saints take an early lead in Tampa, Newton will almost certainly be pulled at some point.
The Falcons, meanwhile, are almost certain to be playing for their playoff lives in this game. Should the Seahawks beat the Cardinals in a game running concurrently, Atlanta would need to win this game to secure the No. 6 seed in the playoffs. If the Seahawks happen to get upset at home, the Falcons would be in and would have their ticket punched to the postseason regardless as to what happens here.
If we go under the assumption that both of these teams are going to play this game full out, the key for the Panthers is figuring out how to get the ball in Christian McCaffrey's hands as often as possible.
The Falcons have had all sorts of problems stopping these shifty, do-it-all backs all season long. Just check out some of the numbers the Falcons have allowed to running backs this year:
Tarik Cohen: 66 rushing yards, 47 receiving yards, 1 TD
Ty Montgomery: 35 rushing yards, 75 receiving yards, 1 TD
LeSean McCoy: 76 rushing yards, 32 receiving yards
Christian McCaffrey: 66 rushing yards, 28 receiving yards, 1 TD
Mark Ingram: 49 rushing yards, 43 receiving yards
Alvin Kamara: 32 rushing yards, 58 receiving yards
The Falcons are averaging allowing over seven receptions per game to running backs alone. If McCaffrey gets his hands on the ball that many times out of the backfield, he could be in for a huge day.
Panthers vs. Falcons Free Picks
Obviously, all of the best football sportsbooks will be watching what's going on around the country very closely and will adjust live betting options accordingly for what happens everywhere else around the nation.
A dream scenario for the books is that this game is close throughout just like the games in Seattle and Tampa.
Regardless, there always seems to be a little more motivation for the team playing for its playoff life in this spot. Sure, the Panthers will want to beat out the Saints and win the division title, but at least they're in regardless, and they're probably going to be forced on the road for the first round of the playoffs one way or the other. The last thing they want to do is show a little too much to a New Orleans team that beat them twice in the regular season or a Rams outfit that hasn't seen them yet this year.
The Falcons could come out of the blocks like a ball of fire, and if that's the case, Newton could find himself on the bench based on what's happening in Atlanta more than on what's happening in Tampa.
NFL ATS Pick: Falcons -3 at BookMaker.eu
NFL Score Prediction: Falcons 34, Panthers 10