Because the Falcons nearly beat the Panthers earlier this season, I think it's fair to expect a better outcome this time. This will be a critical week for the Falcons, who could put together their first real momentum of the season against a division opponent. It's probably fair to assume that many of you have checked out the optimistic hotel by now, but the Falcons need to prove that some the current personnel is capable of playing at a high level.
They'll be doing so without Byron Leftwich again. He'll be listed on the injury report as doubtful, but it would take an injury to Harrington and some premium suckitude from Chris Redman for Petrino to even think about putting him in. Joey Joe Joe Junior Shabadoo will get at least one more shot to stick as the starter. Nothing short of dominance is going to ensure he keeps it once Leftwich is ready to go. Norwood is also questionable. Pet Rhino is likely to be cautious with him and just increase Dunn's workload, which could be either dandy or alarming depending on your point of view. Crumpler and Steve Nicholas are likely to play, and I welcome back the Falcoholic Mancrush with open arms. It also can't hurt to have Todd Weiner back in the lineup, though I'm still not clear where he'll be lining up against the Panthers. My expectation is that he'll take over at his natural position, but Pet Rhino might be too leery of Ojinnaka's inexperience.
Credit the AJC for the report that contract negotiations have not started up with Boley yet. I've addressed Mike before, but I don't think I'm understating my case by saying it is absolutely essential that we keep him around. He's a quiet leader, an excellent tackler, and a guy who is always hanging around the ball. You don't just pick up guys like him every day, and the Falcons need to do anything they can to hold onto Boley. If they really like Nicholas, as the reports have gone, then maybe it's time to insert him on the other side. The Falcons should absolutely put no stock into the idea that Nicholas could take over for Boley: even if he can, I'd say it would be better to have two great 'backers as they retool the defense line.
The Falcons won't win this game without Roddy White. Nobody hit White harder than I did the last two years, when he seemed like another disappointment in the first round who would never amount to anything. This year he's thrived as basically the only true weapon on the team, and the Falcons need him to shred the Panther secondary this week. The Panthers are likely to struggle on offense with either Matt Moore (very young) or Vinny Testaverde (very old) behind the helm, so the Falcons will get their chances. A steady ground game could save Joey a lot of trouble, but I'd expect him to be looking for Roddy early and often.
Thoughts from the Falcoholics Anonymous support group?