Wiith Seattle very likely taking care of business against Arizona, it’s really looking like a win or go home scenario for the Falcons. A divisional game against the Panthers will be a test of tests, as Atlanta must trust their banged-up OL to withstand the formidable Carolina defensive line in a game that already limits what you can do on the ground. Steve Sarkisian needs to trust his offensive weapons (AKA use Julio Jones a lot) in what should be a ferocious matchup for ATL’s O and CAR’s D. Conversely, the Falcons should sell out to stop Carolina’s run game, and force Cam Newton’s arm and Carolina’s depleted receiving core to beat their secondary. It’s easy to feel nervous about this one, particularly with Carolina playing well as of late and the Falcons not showing much life on offense this month. But if we’ve learned anything about the birds this season, it’s that, as long as they score 20 points, they do know how to finish a close fight. Falcons take a nail-biter, and will look ahead for what’s sure to be an emotional playoffs, all things considered.
Falcons 24 - Panthers 20
It’s a concerning matchup for the Falcons. A turnover-prone team against Ron Rivera’s aggressive defense that has been forcing turnovers for fun in recent weeks could cause problems. It’s also a bad week for them to be injured in the trenches. Alex Mack is one of the most valuable players on the team. While he should play given his absurd fortitude, Carolina’s front seven can attack you from so many different angles. Providing sufficient protection will be necessary for Matt Ryan to exploit a mediocre secondary. This has all the makings of a traditional NFC South battle. It will come down to the wire. In the end, Atlanta will make enough plays defensively. Deion Jones and Keanu Neal are developing into certified difference makers.
Panthers 24 - Falcons 17
Can the Falcons win? Sure they can, but I also said that how they played against the Saints would tell me how they’d play against the Panthers. Referees aside, the team didn’t get it done against the Saints, and a hot, scary Panthers team comes to town looking for blood. I’m conditioned to believe we’ll wilt against them, too.
This team has teased us for far too long this season. A defense that seems good and an offense that seems bad have left us all dazed and confused for 15 games with no answer in our immediate vicinity. We need to stop leaving games up to folks other than us. If the Falcons play their game the way we all know they can, they will win. One thing’s for certain: the end of the 2017 season, whenever it is for the Falcons, will happen exactly the way they deserve.
Falcons 24 - Panthers 17
I believe, in spite of myself. I believe the Falcons have the talent to win this game, that the Panthers might be less than stellar thanks to their injury issues and a possible Saints blowout that makes them ease off the throttle, and that Atlanta will come out fired up given the stakes. Admittedly I have been given relatively few reasons to believe this, but I believe even so. At some point this team will put it all together and start playing like they’re capable of, and I just pray it’s not the 2018 regular season.