The heck with a preamble, you know what this is. A win keeps the Falcons technically alive in the playoff hunt and finally ends the Panthers' amazing undefeated streak, while a loss is the expected outcome and all but means the Falcons are playing for nothing more than pride and a powerful hatred of the Saints when they welcome New Orleans in Week 17. There are stakes here if you squint, even if Atlanta's playoff odds are so remote I hesitate to keeping bringing them up.
Your paths to victory, below.
Atlanta couldn't do one single thing right against Carolina the last time out, which means you basically have to rip up your gameplan and start from scratch. They do have a few advantages this time around that they didn't enjoy in Week 14, however.
For starters, they're not on the road, and they've finally ended their long losing streak, which can give you a little jolt. They also appear to have found a way to add a little juice to the pass rush, though we have to acknowledge it was against a merely okay Jacksonville offensive line and they'll need to do it this week without Grady Jarrett. Did I mention they're at home? Because I'm digging pretty deep, here.
On offense, Atlanta's got to get a moribund ground assault going for the first time in many weeks, and they have to do so without Tevin Coleman, who slipped in the shower and found himself in the league's concussion protocol. Coleman has been sneakily effective as the team's change-of-pace back while Devonta Freeman has struggled behind a deflating offensive line, and the 4-5 carries that would go to Coleman will now go to Terron Ward, who doesn't add a tremendous amount as a runner.
Aerially speaking, it's all about keeping Roddy White and Justin Hardy involved, taking some heat off of Julio Jones and allowing Matt Ryan to look for the short-to-intermediate routes he killed the Jaguars with. The Panthers are a vastly superior defense, of course, but if you've got receivers who can pick up 10-15 yards at a gallop like that, it'll keep Ryan upright and the offense moving.
Defensively, it's all about preventing big plays and containing Cam Newton, which Atlanta utterly failed to do the last time around. The biggest difference Sunday is that the Panthers will be without rejuvenated running back Jonathan Stewart and relying entirely on a committee of backs including Mike Tolbert, Cameron Artis-Payne, and Fozzy Whitaker. I'm actually a big Artis-Payne fan, but that's a massive downgrade, and if the Falcons play solid football up front, the Panthers may have to lean more on the pass than they would like to. Again, Cam Newton turnovers, as rare as they are these days, represent the Falcons' best chance.
Ultimately, it's still going to take a tremendous effort and a few mistakes from Carolina to give Atlanta the win. I'm not bullish about their chances, but who knows, maybe we'll get a late Christmas miracle.
Do exactly what you did the last time. Harry Matt Ryan, shut down the ground game, connect on ridiculous deep shots to Ted Ginn, and rumble all over the Falcons' run defense. Even 80% of that effort is probably enough to win this game, even if the Falcons are finally coming around and at home.
Sorry this is so short, but it's really that simple. Carolina just needs to stick to their gameplan and execute at a high level, and they'll likely win.