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The Falcons Face A Resurgent Panthers Team

How much of the improvement for both teams is real, and how much of it is phantom?

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

I'm as confident as I reasonably can be about the Falcons playing a quality game against the Panthers in Week 17, but not as confident as I was a month ago. That may seem crazy, given the real strides the Falcons have made in recent weeks, but there's a good reason for my concern.

The Panthers have improved, most notably on offense, and it's enough to at least introduce doubt.

On November 30th, the Panthers capped off a six game losing streak by getting blown out by the Minnesota Vikings, with Cam Newton putting up a 65.7 rating and the defense doing nothing. It looked like Carolina would float face down in the muddy waters of the NFC South from that point on, but the division was still profoundly unsettled, and the Panthers suddenly found their footing.

They've now reeled off three wins in a row, including a 41-10 thumping of the Saints and an easy win over the Buccaneers with Derek Anderson at the helm. Jonathan Stewart has suddenly come to life over the last month, Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen are powering the passing game and the defense has managed to rise from the mire to put together some strong efforts, albeit against scuffling teams.

The Falcons have nearly every advantage you can think of in this one, including home field, and I think they'll be able to simply outgun Carolina. I'm just urging everyone not to take this Carolina team too lightly, because they're not the same miserable squad the Falcons edged back in November.

What are your expectations for this game?