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These Atlanta Falcons aren’t the old Falcons

Cam Newton isn’t the only Atlanta Falcons fan in Charlotte. I like the way they’re put together, like the way Mike Smith coaches, like the way Matt Ryan runs the offense.

Maybe that’s the reason I keep picking them. If I knew nothing about their history, I think by now I would have figured out that they aren’t good. The offensive line struggles to block and the defense struggles to apply pressure. Beset by multiple injuries, notably to receiver Julio Jones, the Falcons aren’t the Falcons anymore. If receiver Roddy White plays, watch he and Captain Munnerlyn go at it. They always do.

I keep reading that Atlanta has given up. When a team that comes into a season 56-24 under Smith suddenly loses and loses consistently, the default answer is that they quit. I don’t see a lack of effort. As presently constructed, I see a lack of talent.

The Panthers are favored today for the second straight week, a franchise record.

CAROLINA 29, Atlanta 20

Last week: 11-2

Hypothetical question from readers: Wait, are you saying you missed only two games?

Hypothetical answer: Yes I am.

Season: 80-40

Upset of the week: Picked Atlanta (+2 1/2) to upset Arizona. I was more or less wrong.

Season: 4-4

Lock of the week: Picked San Francisco (-16 1/2) to cover against Jacksonville. The 49ers won by 32.

Season: 5-3

This week’s picks, with the home team in CAPS:

Kansas City 2 over BUFFALO

The Chiefs are too poised and too well coached to think about their next game, which is in two weeks at Denver. (They have a bye next week.) The Chiefs are the ultimate grinders. They grind through their user-friendly schedule and grind past whomever they play. Don’t know who will play quarterback for the Bills. Don’t know that it matters. The league’s only undefeated team wins again.

OAKLAND 20, Philadelphia 17

The Raiders came through for me last week, beating Pittsburgh, and I expect them to come through against a Pennsylvania team again. How a team with LeSean McCoy can consistently fail to stay on the field and consistently fail to score is puzzling. Maybe it’s the quarterback. The Raiders are 3-1 at home.

The rest:

Tennessee 24, ST. LOUIS 20

New Orleans 31, NEW YORK JETS 23

San Diego 33, WASHINGTON 31

SEATTLE 30, Tampa Bay 10

Baltimore 23, CLEVELAND 21

NEW ENGLAND 27, Pittsburgh 20

GREEN BAY 31, Chicago 20

Upset of the week: Indianapolis (+2) 23, HOUSTON 17

Since the Colts are favored, how can I call this an upset? I make my picks Wednesday and on Wednesday the Texans were favored by 21/2. It’s not my fault the betting world needed another day to wake up. Finding a friendly line is like buying an airline ticket. The earlier you move, the better the rate.

Lock of the week: DALLAS (-10 1/2) 33, Minnesota 17

I love the Cowboys – at home. Dez Bryant ought to be so effective against the Minnesota defense that he doesn’t scream at his coach, his quarterback, his tight end and whoever happens to be in listening range. Some say that Bryant’s sideline histrionics demonstrate his desire to win. So if a player doesn’t scream, does that mean he doesn’t care?

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