The Panthers have had a simply incredible season. Nobody would’ve picked them to go undefeated before the season but here they are, 12-0 and facing a very manageable schedule the rest of the way. Another bonus for the Panthers is they boast the potential MVP and a defensive player of the year candidate. The Falcons season started great, they were 5-0, the offense was rolling and the defense looked to be improved. They have since fallen to 6-6. Matt Ryan isn’t playing particularly well, Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman have slowed down and the defense hasn’t been great either.
Keys to the game
Atlanta’s front seven
The Falcons front seven have to find a way to contain Cam Newton. If they let him get out of the pocket and scramble, this team could be in really trouble of dropping below .500. Furthermore, Newton has shown that when he is forced to be a strict pocket passer he can be inconsistent.
Carolina’s pass catchers
The Panthers do not boast the best receiving corps by any stretch and though Tedd Ginn’s drops continue to be potentially killer, this group has delivered, particularly Greg Olsen, but they will be key to success in this game. The Falcons defense isn’t bad against the run, so if Newton is forced to stay in the pocket, his pass catchers have to be able to get open.
Carolina’s front seven
The Panthers boast one of the best front-7’s in the league and now they face a ground attack that has been dangerous all season. If they can shut down Devonta Freeman they will be taking away a huge part of the Falcons early success. Also, if they can get pressure on Matt Ryan they will really disrupt the Falcons air attack, whci the Falcons can’t afford to have happen.
Match-up to watch
Josh Norman vs Julio Jones
Josh Norman is shooting up cornerback rankings and is threatening the top-3. Julio Jones on the other hand is arguably the best receiver in the league. Norman has already shut down Dez Bryant, Randall Cobb and various other receivers. If he can add Julio Jones to that list, not only will he assert himself in the conversation for the best corner in the league, but the Panthers will likely be on their way to 13-0.
The Falcons collapse has been sudden and catastrophic. They just don’t look very good at the moment. The Panthers though seem to be able to win any type of game and I don’t see a weakness that the Falcons will be able to exploit.