Atlanta Falcons vs. Carolina Panthers Preview: NFC South Title Game


The 2014 season has been a roller coaster ride for fans of the Atlanta Falcons, but Week 17 arrives with a “win or go home” situation for the team. On Sunday afternoon, the Falcons will host the Carolina Panthers at the Georgia Dome, and with a national television audience on CBS after a “flex” scheduling decision, the NFC South title is at stake despite neither team having a chance to reach the .500 mark. Let’s take a look at the match-up at hand.

Opponent: Carolina Panthers

Time/TV: 4:25 pm ET, CBS

Falcons Offense vs. Panthers Defense

The Falcons will be without starting running back Steven Jackson in this match-up, as he has already been ruled out due to injury. It is fair to suggest that the drop-off between Jackson and his back-ups, Devonta Freeman and Jacquizz Rodgers, is not significant, but in the same breath, the bruising nature of Jackson’s play would have given Dirk Koetter’s offense a different dimension here.

Still, Atlanta’s offensive hopes and dreams rest on the shoulders of Matt Ryan and the passing game. Carolina’s secondary has come under considerable fire this season, but the Panthers have actually bounced back to land in the top ten among passing defenses (at least from a yardage perspective), and it would be fair to say that neither Roddy White or Julio Jones is 100% healthy.

With that on the table, the Atlanta Falcons are fully capable of putting together an explosive effort in their home venue, and the barometer for Matt Ryan should never fall below “average”, with a chance to tick toward elite against this particular defense.

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Falcons Defense vs. Panthers Offense

Don’t look now, but Atlanta’s defense has been borderline competent in recent weeks. The rushing defense has been solid for a decent amount of time at this point, and for the year, the Falcons rank a respectable 18th against the run. However, the passing defense made big-time strides last week against the Saints, largely due to the presence of a real, live pass rush, and that would come in handy here against the Panthers.

Carolina boasts exactly two potent receiving threats in tight end Greg Olsen and wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin. Olsen could pose real issues across the middle of the field, especially in the absence of William Moore, but for Benjamin, a day-long sentence against cornerback Desmond Trufant could take him out of the game completely.

The Panthers are led by Cam Newton, and by now, that is common knowledge. Newton has been much better (somehow) in the second half of the season, even with the now infamous car crash on his resume, and keeping him in the pocket could be beneficial here. Atlanta’s pass rush must “get home” on Newton in order to make him a one-dimensional player, and that is the challenge for Mike Nolan and his crew.


To be clear and honest, the Atlanta Falcons should get a win here, and with it, they should claim the NFC South title. Even if we were to grant that the Falcons and Panthers are evenly matched (and that is reasonable), Atlanta’s home-field advantage should do wonders in Week 17, especially in a 4:25 pm ET kick-off. The 2014 regular season comes down to this, and the Falcons are in a spot to take care of business to earn a playoff berth.

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.