There is losing, and there is LOSING.The Atlanta Falcons have mastered the capitalized version.Blown leads, botched onside kicks and, last Sunday, scoring when they shouldn't have. It's all added up to a 1-6 record, a coach and general manager fired, and ridicule across America for what is actually one of the NFL's best organizations.It might be a stretch to say that the Falcons' foibles in 2020 date back to when they set a Super Bowl record for losing from ahead in the 2017 game against New England. Or maybe not. Clearly, Atlanta has shown a penchant for monumental collapses.On Thursday, they head to Carolina, already having lost to the Panthers this season, although not with a spectacular stumble. That was the final game for coach Dan Quinn and GM Thomas Dimitroff.Some believe the best advice for the Falcons is to simply plow ahead, while others insist they must learn from these fiascos.“Playing on Thursday night makes you get out of the funk that you’re in after a tough loss,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. “So, I think getting back into a game plan quickly, talking with coaches, starting to make plans for Thursday night kind of helps.”The Panthers, 3-4 in their first season under coach Matt Rhule, have been a pleasant surprise considering they were pegged to be the NFC South's tail-ender. They hope to get back star running back Christian McCaffrey, who can be a difference-maker if he's fully healed from a high ankle sprain.The Panthers, No. 19 in the AP Pro32, are a 2 1-2-point favourite over the floundering No. 28 Falcons.PANTHERS, 28-23KNOCKOUT POOL: The Chargers had us worried for a while before subduing Jacksonville. We aren't worried about selecting KANSAS CITY this week.No. 32 New York Jets (plus 19) at No. 2 Kansas CityProbably should be our Best Bet, but that’s a ton of points to give. Still ...BEST BEST: CHIEFS, 38-10No. 22 Los Angeles Chargers (minus 3) at No. 23 DenverYes, the QB matchup favours LA, but favouring the Chargers overall here? Nope.UPSET SPECIAL: BRONCOS, 22-20No. 1 Pittsburgh (plus 5) at No. 3 BaltimorePro Picks' top NFL rivalry, with the top spot in the AFC North up for grabs.STEELERS, 22-20No. 27 Minnesota (plus 6 1-2) at No. 5 Green BayIf not for Jets-Chiefs, this would be our Best Bet.PACKERS, 30-16No. 18 New England (plus 3 1-2) at No. 9 BuffaloThings have gotten ugly in New England, with no Tom Brady to bail out the Patriots.BILLS, 17-15No. 6 Tampa Bay (minus 10) at No. 30 New York Giants, Monday nightSpeaking of Brady, the Giants fared pretty well against him. Not here.BUCCANEERS, 30-16No. 10 Los Angeles Rams (minus 3 1/2) at No. 17 MiamiAaron Donald, meet newbie QB Tua Tagovailoa.RAMS, 26-16No. 13 San Francisco (plus 3) at No. 4 SeattleThe Seahawks don’t know how to avoid close games, even with SF banged-up.SEAHAWKS, 31-30No. 8 New Orleans (minus 4) at No. 12 ChicagoCan't like much of anything the Bears showed in LA. It should be tighter in the Windy City.SAINTS, 24-16No. 29 Dallas (plus 7 1-2) at No 21 PhiladelphiaWe will take Philly's grit and determination over Dallas' ennui.EAGLES, 22-10No. 16 Las Vegas (plus 3 1-2) at No. 14 ClevelandThe Browns have proven they can beat bad teams. What are the Raiders?BROWNS, 26-23No. 7 Tennessee (minus 5) at No. 26 CincinnatiThe Bengals are growing even as they keep losing. But they haven't grown this much.TITANS, 30-27No. 15 Indianapolis (minus 2) at No. 20 DetroitDon't be fooled by the Lions reaching .500.COLTS, 26-21___2020 RECORDLast Week: Straight up: 11-3. Against spread: 8-6Season: Straight up: 69-35-1. Against spread: 56-44-2Best Bet: Straight up: 6-1. Against spread: 5-2Upset Special: Straight up: 2-5. Against spread: 2-4-1___More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFLBarry Wilner, The Associated Press
Thursday night games may not be all that popular among NFL players. For the Falcons and Panthers, this weeks NFC South matchup cant get here soon enough.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Christian McCaffrey has been designated for return from the team’s injured reserve list, increasing the likelihood Carolina’s 2019 All-Pro running back will play Thursday night against the Atlanta Falcons.McCaffrey arrived at Panthers practice Tuesday with a red jersey and a baseball cap signifying an injured player, but he quickly changed into a black practice jersey and a helmet.McCaffrey hasn’t played since Week 2 when he suffered a high ankle sprain in a loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.Panthers coach Matt Rhule reiterated Tuesday that he is “hopeful” McCaffrey will ready to play against the Falcons, but added that the decision was largely up to the training staff.“He looks good,” Rhule said. “He looks like he is moving around great. We will let the medical people and him determine how much he can do and whether he can play in a game.”McCaffrey was off to a solid start with 223 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns in the first two games.“It's just another weapon," wide receiver Curtis Samuel said of McCaffrey's return. “There is no such thing as having too many playmakers out there. You give the team so many options of who is getting the ball here and who is going there. So many outlets. There is no such thing as having too many options.”Rhule said McCaffrey was “exhilarated” to be out at practice with his teammates.“I know he wants to play, but I also know he's a process guy and he understands that we can't shortcut the process,” Rhule said.McCaffrey's backup Mike Davis had 149 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown in Carolina's 23-16 win against Atlanta earlier this month. Rhule said Davis will still see some action at running back even if McCaffrey returns.NOTES: Panthers left tackle Russell Okung (calf), defensive tackle Zach Kerr (toe) and guard John Miller (ankle) did not practice.___More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFLSteve Reed, The Associated Press