Make no mistake: this is a playoff game in spirit. The Falcons luck out by catching the Panthers in a bit of a quick transition after the Kelvin Benjamin trade. Cam Newton is going to take time to adjust to life without KB, and his OL is a bit banged up. Unless rookie Christian McCaffrey has a breakout party (*gulps*), Atlanta’s defense should be able to take care of business. Despite being eligible for an AARP membership as a unit, Carolina’s defense is still no joke. Steve Sarkisian is going up against another first-year coordinator in Steve Wilks, so let’s hope ole Sark can outwit his fellow newbie. The key to this one will be controlling the clock, and, oodles of emphasis, not turning the ball over. Cross off those boxes, and Atlanta can nab their first divisional win, and a pretty darn important one at that.
Falcons 17 - Panthers 20
Before the season began, I believed the Falcons would split with the Panthers. This is the fulfillment of that. Although I think they looked better against the Jets, I’m still not convinced the Falcons are over the hump just yet. Until I see this offense go an entire game without shooting itself in the foot, I’m not going to buy into the turn around. While Carolina has its own flaws, their defense is legitimately good again this year. I suspect they will lean heavily on the run to keep Matt Ryan and Julio Jones off the field while also beating our defense at its biggest weakness. I still think the Falcons keep it close, but Carolina edges out the win at home.
Falcons 24 - Panthers 17
This is a tough matchup for the Falcons, as the Panthers possess one of the NFL’s best defenses. However, Atlanta is catching them at a rather opportune time, as the abrupt loss of Kelvin Benjamin will certainly require some adjustments to an already struggling offense. This game will likely come down to how well the Falcons defense can keep Cam Newton in check, and limiting mistakes on offense. Matt Ryan had arguably his best game of the season against the Jets, and he'll need another strong performance to take down the Panthers in Charlotte.
Falcons 23 - Panthers 24
I believe this will be a maddeningly close game that the Falcons find a way to lose, as much as I hate to even entertain the notion. The Panthers defense will be tough to win against, the Panthers offense is just capable enough to keep it close, and I think the Falcons just aren’t quite where they need to be yet to win a game that unfolds along those lines. May I be worrying over nothing.