The Carolina Panthers haven't gotten the fast start to the season they were hoping. After finishing last season 15-1, they already doubled their loss total and sit at 1-2 heading into an important divisional game with the Atlanta Falcons.
In Week 3, the Panthers ran into a buzzsaw in the Minnesota Vikings, who came back from a poor first half to get the convincing 22-10 win. Cam Newton was harassed all day, taking eight sacks and throwing three interceptions. In addition, Minnesota did a masterful job taking Kelvin Benjamin out of the game -- he had just one target and zero catches.
The Falcons are coming off a Monday Night Football win over the New Orleans Saints, moving to first place in the division at 2-1. Matt Ryan threw for 240 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions, but the real story was the dominance of the running game. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for 194 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries, slicing through New Orleans' moribund defense with ease.
There are concerns for Atlanta -- the defense still doesn't have much of a pass rush and Julio Jones is struggling to play through nagging injuries. Through three games, Jones has just 10 catches, although he's still averaging 18.8 yards per reception and scored twice. The Falcons have done enough to get by, but they need Jones to get healthy for their offense to really take off.
All things considered, the Panthers are favored among experts to return to .500, being a consensus pick at both ESPN and CBS Sports. Here at SB Nation, seven writers are going with Carolina, while only Adam Stites, Louis Bien, and the OddsShark Computer are picking Atlanta.
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