The first divisional game of the 2017 season is finally here for the Falcons, and it’s an important one. The 5-3 Panthers are currently second in the division, and the 4-3 Falcons could take their place with a win on Sunday and stay within a game of the Saints. This won’t be an easy one for either team, however, as both Atlanta and Carolina have struggled with inconsistency on offense and bad luck with turnovers.
Let’s examine this match-up a little more closely by taking a look at how the Falcons and Panthers compare statistically.
|Points/game||21.9 (15th)||18.5 (23rd)|
|Total yards/game||374.4 (5th)||311.0 (21st)|
|Yards per play||6.2 (2nd)||4.8 (25th)|
|Passing yards/game||251.1 (9th)||213.4 (19th)|
|Passing yards per attempt||7.9 (T-5th)||6.9 (T-18th)|
|Passing TDs||9 (T-21st)||10 (T-16th)|
|Rushing yards/game||123.3 (10th)||97.6 (21st)|
|Rushing yards per attempt||4.8 (4th)||3.4 (29th)|
|Rushing TDs||6 (T-10th)||4 (T-20th)|
|Third Down Efficiency||41% (11th)||45% (4th)|
|Turnover Margin||-5 (27th)||-7 (29th)|
The Falcons—while not nearly as formidable on offense as they were in 2016—are still a top-10 offense by most metrics outside of points (which, unfortunately, is the most important one). Atlanta is 15th in points, 5th in total yards, and an impressive 2nd in yards per play through seven games. In the passing game, the Falcons are 9th in yards, T-5th in yards per attempt, and a lackluster T-21st in TDs (only 9 thus far). Atlanta’s rushing attack is currently 10th in yards, 4th in yards per carry, and T-10th in TDs. They’re above average on third down, converting 41% of their attempts (11th), but have struggled mightily with turnovers in 2017 (-5, 27th).
Carolina’s offense has not recaptured its 2015 glory thus far, and is largely a below-average unit in 2017. The Panthers are 23rd in points, 21st in total yards, and 25th in yards per play. The passing attack is currently a mediocre 19th in yards, T-18th in yards per attempt, and T-16th in TDs. Carolina has been even worse running the ball, as they’re 21st in yards, 29th in yards per attempt, and T-20th in TDs. The one bright spot for the Panthers’ offense has been third down, where they are converting an impressive 45% of their attempts (4th). Like the Falcons, the Panthers have also struggled with turnovers (-7, 29th). With WR1 Kelvin Benjamin traded just days ago, this offense could get even worse over the coming weeks.
|Points/game||21.7 (15th)||17.8 (4th)|
|Total yards/game||320.6 (11th)||264.0 (2nd)|
|Yards per play||5.0 (10th)||4.7 (5th)|
|Passing yards/game||218.4 (14th)||182.4 (3rd)|
|Passing yards per attempt||6.6 (T-7th)||6.6 (T-7th)|
|Passing TDs||11 (T-16th)||10 (T-12th)|
|Rushing yards/game||102.1 (11th)||81.6 (4th)|
|Rushing yards per attempt||4.0 (T-16th)||3.8 (T-8th)|
|Rushing TDs||2 (T-2nd)||3 (T-4th)|
|Third Down Efficiency||40% (17th)||33% (6th)|
|Sacks||17 (T-16th)||27 (2nd)|
It’s been enjoyable to watch the Falcons’ defense grow into an above-average group in 2017, although they still have a long way to go to becoming a top-tier unit. Atlanta is currently 15th in points, 11th in total yards, and 10th in yards per play. They’ve been slightly better against the pass thus far, as the team is 14th in yards, T-7th in yards per attempt, and T-16th in TDs. Last week’s impressive performance against the run has helped the Falcons’ numbers there significantly: they’re now 11th in yards, T-16th in yards per carry, and remain T-2nd in rushing TDs. Atlanta is about average on third down (40% conversion rate, 17th) and at sacking the opposing QB (17 sacks, T-16th).
The Panthers’ defense has so far been an elite unit in 2017 outside of a few games. Carolina is currently 4th in points, 2nd in total yards, and 5th in yards per play. Against the pass, the team is 3rd in yards, T-7th in yards per attempt, and T-12th in TDs. Defending the run, the Panthers are currently 4th in yards, T-8th in yards per carry, and T-4th in TDs. Carolina has been stifling on third down, allowing only a 33% conversion rate (6th). They might be most impressive rushing the passer, as their 27 sacks through eight games are 2nd in the NFL behind Jacksonville.
This is an extremely important game for both the Falcons and Panthers, particularly with the Saints leading the division. For Atlanta, a win here puts them in second place and keeps them within a game of New Orleans—not to mention giving them some momentum heading into a very difficult two-game stretch against Dallas and Seattle. For Carolina, a win would give fans some confidence after a pretty questionable trade and keep the team on the heels of the Saints.
This game will be all about defense and limiting/taking advantage of turnovers. The Panthers have a very stout defense that will not give up a ton of points. Atlanta’s defense also looks improved and will be looking to make a statement in their first divisional game of the season. Taking advantage of short fields and limiting mistakes will be key to both teams, as every point in this game could be the difference between a W or an L.
It’s hard to give one team much of an edge over the other. The loss of Kelvin Benjamin could be a death blow to an offense that was already struggling to move the ball consistently, or it might not make a big difference. Atlanta, meanwhile, has been moving the ball just fine—they need to start capitalizing in the red zone and turning FGs into TDs. Hopefully this will be the week that the Falcons finally get some luck in the turnover department—the Panthers will be down C Ryan Kalil and could also be down Pro Bowl G Trai Turner. Atlanta must put consistent pressure on Newton if they want to come away with a victory on Sunday.
Overall Advantage: Push
What do you think about this match-up? Do you think the Falcons come away with a win on Sunday? Who will you be watching closely during the game?