Atlanta Falcons vs. Carolina Panthers preview: Keeping ‘Momentum’


With only a one-game deficit in the NFC South (!), the Atlanta Falcons are still playing highly meaningful football despite an ugly, 3-6 record during the 2014 season. On Sunday, the team travels to Charlotte to take on the Carolina Panthers in their second consecutive divisional road game, and in doing so, Atlanta will look to keep any “momentum” gained from a solid victory in Tampa Bay in Week 10. Let’s preview the action.

Opponent: Carolina Panthers

Time/TV: 1:00 pm ET, FOX

Falcons Offense vs. Panthers Defense

Although it feels odd to say, Carolina is pretty bad on the defensive side of the ball. The Panthers enter the game 25th in the NFL in total defense (376.8 yards allowed per game) and 29th in the NFL in scoring defense (28.1 points allowed per game), and they aren’t particularly strong in either stopping the run or the pass, falling outside the top-20 in the league in both categories.

On the Falcons side, the offensive line was much more productive against the Bucs than in previous weeks, and that will need to continue in this spot. Carolina will be without stud defensive tackle Star Lotulelei as a result of an ankle injury, and that could be a positive for Atlanta up front, but more than anything, Matt Ryan needs protection in order to facilitate production from his group of play-makers headlined by Julio Jones.

The ground game has been (gasp) reasonably effective recently, as Steven Jackson rushed for 81 yards and a touchdown last week. The Falcons still rank near the bottom of the league in rushing for a variety of reasons, including a relative lack of commitment to the ground game, but it would be beneficial to establish the run against a team who has had all kinds of problems slowing down opposing running backs this season.

Falcons Defense vs. Panthers Offense

This would seem to be the “worry” area (as it usually is) for the Falcons, but Carolina is also scuffling offensively right now, and that is headlined by the struggles of Cam Newton and the offensive line. The Panthers scored 21 points in their Monday night loss to Philadelphia, but 14 of those points were in garbage time, and Carolina gave up nine sacks against the Eagles. Cam Newton is having easily his worst season as a pro, and a portion of that is undoubtedly on his shoulders, but if there is an offensive line in the league that is a “favorable” match-up for this Atlanta front, this might be it right now.

In addition to those struggles from Carolina, the Panthers are also bad in the running game this season. In fact, Carolina has been less productive than Atlanta on the ground (the Panthers rank 27th in the league in rushing offense), and without a real “feature” back and with a hobbled Newton, there is nothing that should inject fear in the hearts of the Falcons defensively.

It should certainly be noted that Cam Newton has said all the right things this week about a renewed focus for the Panthers offense, and getting “right” against the Falcons seems to be a prevailing theme. However, if Atlanta shows up defensively, this is a prime spot to post a respectable overall effort.


Because of the nature of the venue (i.e. on the road), this is a tough spot for the Falcons, but it is also a highly winnable game. This year’s Carolina team does not resemble the 2013 edition, and given the relative improvement for Atlanta last week coming out of the bye, there is room for optimism here. Still, it is tough to assume that Mike Smith‘s team will play well given the body of work this season, and this is likely a “loser leaves town” match with regard to the NFC South “race”.

Stay tuned for post-game coverage, and a live game thread that will post on Sunday morning. In addition, be sure to follow ATL All Day for the latest on the Atlanta Falcons.