ESPN senior writer Mike Sando asks league insiders to pick winners in select games each week. Three evaluators joined the panel for Week 2. This week's games: Panthers-Falcons, Chiefs-Steelers, Eagles-Buccaneers and Patriots-Jaguars.
Sunday: 1 p.m. ET, Fox | Point spread: ATL by 6 | Insiders pick: ATL (2/3)
Yes, two of the three insiders sided with the Falcons, but they did not feel as strongly about it as the oddsmakers apparently do. That six-point spread seemed more optimistic for Atlanta.
"Atlanta losing Deion Jones and Keanu Neal at the same time is really going to hurt them on defense, so I'm going with Carolina," the insider picking the Panthers said. "I feel like Deion Jones was their best football player, really, on defense. And then their starting safety? That is tough against a team that has a quarterback who can run [Cam Newton]."
One insider picking the Falcons thought 2017 fifth-round pick Damontae Kazee was a decent replacement for Neal at strong safety, noting that Kazee made a couple positive plays against Philly in the opener. He saw Carolina's injuries being at least as important.
"I'm not high on Carolina this year, but they always give every team a very tough game," this insider said. "Their defense is always so good. Cam looked decent against Dallas, and I do not think Matt Ryan looked good at all for Atlanta. You get pressure on him, rattle him, he will just want to get rid of the ball. I will still pick Atlanta at home, but I do wonder: Can Atlanta score?"
The third insider haltingly went with the Falcons in what he saw as a pick 'em game.
"If the defensive injuries in Atlanta do not allow them to stop the running game of Carolina, then Carolina will win," he said.