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The first place Panthers emerge as the Falcons’ main opposition for the NFC South

With a good road win and a 4-1 record, Carolina looks dangerous.

Atlanta Falcons v Carolina Panthers Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

As I recall, our staff was fairly divided before the season regarding whether Tampa Bay or Carolina would prove to be a bigger problem for the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC South. I was on the side of Tampa Bay, on the assumption that their obvious talent would translate into more wins.

It’s still relatively early, but the Panthers are about a third of the way through their season, and they look like the team to watch in the NFC South outside of our beloved Falcons. On a day where they couldn’t get anything going on the ground, Cam Newton had a terrific game through the air, where he threw for 355 yards and three touchdowns. The Carolina defense was able to bottle up Detroit until late, and the Panthers ultimately won 27-24.

There’s no doubting that a team with Newton at the helm and a quality defense can win a lot of games, but it has been hard to figure out just how good Carolina is to this point. They beat the Bills 9-3, the 49ers 23-3, and the Patriots 33-30, with the Patriots game looking less impressive in hindsight and the Bills game standing out for the ugliness of the offense. They also lost a miserable 34-13 game to the Saints, but the body of work to this point suggests they’ll probably finish the year with a winning record, a middling offense capable of great games, and one of the league’s better defenses. Taken together, that does suggest a legitimate challenger for the Falcons, one that will likely be a challenge to play against, too.

I was hoping for a cakewalk season for the Falcons, as I always do, but that’s never realistic. Carolina looks like the team likeliest to make a run for the NFC South title right now, and we’ll hope the Falcons can hold them at bay. For what it’s worth, I believe they can.