Words like “finally” and “mercifully” certainly describe the feeling surrounding the arrival of the final 2013 football game for the Atlanta Falcons, and here we are. The Dirty Birds will host the Carolina Panthers in the Dome on Sunday, and while the team has nothing left to do but play spoiler against a division rival, all eyes will be on the game as the swansong of one of the best players to ever play the game. Let’s get to the particulars.
Opponent - Carolina Panthers (11-4 overall, 4-3 on road)
Time/TV - 1:00 PM ET, FOX (Regional)
Falcons Offense vs. Panthers Defense
When you’re talking about Atlanta’s offense in this one, you have to start with Tony Gonzalez playing his last NFL game. After 269 regular season games, 1,321 catches, 15,071 yards, and a staggering 111 touchdowns, Gonzalez has a rough match-up in his last game, but you can bet that Matt Ryan and company will be targeting Tony early and often in his send-off game.
Aside from Tony, the rest of the offense hasn’t been sparkling this season (as evidenced by the team’s dismal record), but the passing game has been reasonable. Matt Ryan and the crew are still 6th in the NFL in passing offense with over 267 yards per game, and while Carolina is as stingy as they come on defense, the air is the best way to beat them. The Panthers are 7th in the NFL against the pass, but Roddy White looked very healthy for the first time this season last week, and with Harry Douglas to pair with the White/Gonzalez combo, there’s always a chance.
The ground game will be an uphill battle to say the least, and frankly, it doesn’t get more lopsided than this. The Falcons are still dead last in the NFL in rushing offense with just 78 yards per game (yikes), and the Panthers are 2nd in the league against the run, allowing only 87.7 yards per game. Translation? It’s time to take to the air.
Falcons Defense vs. Panthers Offense
Fortunately for the Falcons, the Carolina offense isn’t nearly as scary as the defense, even with Cam Newton at the controls. “Riverboat Ron” has the Panthers churning in a big way this year, but they’re still pretty bad in the passing game (28th in the league) and the running game is confusing at best.
The aforementioned Newton is always a fear, though, and he can use his legs and his huge arm to beat the Falcons in a variety of ways. Newton’s targets are banged up with Steve Smith hurt and the rest of the options limited, but Newton finds a way to make plays with little to no space. On the ground, the Falcons have been awful (31st in the league), and the Panthers do have a trio of quality backs in addition to Newton. It could get ugly if Carolina gets a lead and begins to pound things on the ground.
Many people ‘want’ the Falcons to lose this game for draft purposes, and that’s certainly an acceptable feeling. Still, there is a huge segment of Falcons nation yearning for a win, and it would be a fitting end to Gonzalez’s career to send him off with an unlikely W.
Stay tuned for a game thread on Sunday morning, and be sure to join us in the comments throughout the day!
Topics: Atlanta Falcons