Although the Atlanta Falcons (11-1) have already clinched the NFC South title, they still have business to handle and must continue to focus on their next few games if they want to take the number one overall seed for the NFC and guarantee homefield advantage during the playoffs.
But, Sunday marks another face-off with the Carolina Panthers, who still hold a bitter grudge toward Atlanta after their 38-20 loss earlier this season. Although Atlanta is favored to win the battle, don’t assume that Carolina will go down so easily. In their match-up earlier this season, a late fumble from Panther quarterback Cam Newton, followed by a high-light reel worthy pass from Matt Ryan to Roddy White, gave Atlanta the green light to walk away with a huge win on their home turf.
So, if the Panthers are seeking revenge, what does Atlanta need to do to guarantee another win on the season?
This week, Atlanta’s offensive line understands that protection is going to be a huge factor if they want to walk away with another win. In their week four meeting, Atlanta’s offensive line simply allowed Ryan to suffer too many hits. In that initial game, Carolina’s Charles Johnson had 3.5 sacks, two tackles for yards lost, one pass deflection and five hits alone on the Falcon quarterback. This week, the line has to give Ryan that critical time in the pocket to control the game. Ryan is best known for his perfected no huddle offense, but coming off a season low 54.5 percent pass completion rating against the Saints, “Matty-Ice” has to come in with that lights-out, no nonsense action that we saw early this season.
Although the Falcons walked away with the win in their first meeting, Ryan is going to have to find a way to split receptions between Roddy White and Julio Jones on Sunday. Plagued by a nagging hand injury in their week four match-up, the Panther defense still concentrated on the young receiver, holding Jones to only one catch. Even though Jones’ catch was a pivotal, 30-yard reception, Carolina placed all of their efforts on making sure he had no opportunities to make big plays. Having to step up and make himself available for Ryan, White ended his day with eight catches for 169-yards and two touchdowns. This week both receivers are going to have to be prepared to outman a more than ready Panther defense if they want to solidify their day.
Defensively, the Falcons are prepared for Newton target Steve Smith and will more than likely have a physical Dunta Robinson ready to line-up with him again. It is also not hard to realize that Newton loves to run the ball and if that plan falters, he generally defaults to a hand off on the outside to an open running back, who then dives under the defensive end. But, with the Panthers more times than not, relying on that key play, the Falcons defense will not be fooled easily and will be ready to implement the block when they see it coming. With his speed and agility, combined with his ability to almost read the play before it starts, look for Sean Weatherspoon to have another big day against the Panthers.
Luckily, if relying on record for any indication, Atlanta comes into the series holding a 23-12 record over Carolina, winning their last five meetings. Knowing the importance that weighs on their upcoming games and the chance to clinch that coveted position and advantage in the playoffs, look for this Atlanta team to focus more than ever over the next few weeks and not allow too many mistakes.
Kick-off is set for 1 p.m. tomorrow from Bank of America Stadium on Fox.
About the Author
Written by Ashley Gulick
Sports Journalism is my passion! I keep up with the latest news on pro/college football, NASCAR and baseball....and just about everthing else. I grew up in Talladega, Ala., but moved to Georgia when I was 15. From a young age, I always knew that I wanted to be involved with sports somehow. Once I got into college and completed my degree in Communications, I knew that I had a passion for sports journalism. I have covered sports for the Kennesaw Sentinel (KSU's student paper), Marietta Daily Journal and Douglas County Sentinel.