The NFL's Week 8 slate kicks off with an NFC South rivalry as the 1-6 Atlanta Falcons are in the Queen City for a clash with the 3-4 Carolina Panthers on Thursday night inside Bank of America Stadium. The Panthers are listed as the home favorites in this one, laying 2.5 points, with an over/under of 49.5.
However, that spread could fluctuate considerably depending on the availability of a particular running back for the Panthers.
Christian McCaffrey has not played since Week 2 when he suffered a high ankle sprain, missing the next five games and being placed on injured reserve. He initially returned to practice in a red jersey this week, typically reserved for quarterbacks or players who can not engage in contact drills.
But once he swapped it out and donned a helmet for the first time in more than a month, speculation ran rampant. McCaffrey in the backfield changes the entire complexion of the Carolina offense.
Mike Davis had been holding down the fort for the Panthers and fantasy football owners alike in McCaffrey's absence. But over the last two weeks, Davis has combined to rush for just 64 yards and score just one touchdown.
In Weeks 3-5, Davis scored three touchdowns and had 351 total yards on the ground and through the air. The Chicago and New Orleans defenses seem to have established the blueprint for stopping Davis, where one does not exist for McCaffrey.
Atlanta is coming off yet another heartbreaking loss in Week 7, an unofficial category they likely lead the league in this year. In the past, while with the Rams, Todd Gurley famously (or infamously if he was on your fantasy team) passed up touchdowns in favor of falling down to run out the clock. Last Sunday, he "accidentally" scored and left the door open for a Lions comeback, which they happily obliged.
The Falcons fired head coach Dan Quinn after an 0-5 start. Although reports have surfaced that the club won't listen to offers for franchise staples, Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, the same might not be said on the other side of the ball.
The team announced that they will sit out defensive end Takk McKinley on Thursday to let a lingering groin injury heal. However, that has also fueled speculation that a trade could be imminent.
We've seen the trade market for defensive ends heat up recently with Everson Griffen going to Detroit and Carlos Dunlap being moved to Seattle.
Quite A Shift
These divisional foes already squared off in what turned out to be Quinn's final game on Atlanta's sidelines. The Panthers won 23-16, despite being 2.5-point underdogs, so the line has flipped five full points in three weeks.
The Panthers do not have to make a decision on McCaffrey's status until 4 pm ET Thursday because he's on injured reserve with a designation to return. They will likely let him test out the ankle on the field and then make a decision.
I would not make a play on this game until we see how the number is adjusted based on his status. Then, consider that the Falcons are 6-1 ATS in their last seven as home dogs. Getting 2.5 points and maybe more could be great value.