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Falcons 2017 schedule: The Falcons meet the Panthers for their first NFC South battle

It’s Atlanta’s first chance to gain a leg up in the division by putting a rival down.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Fun fact about the 2017 season: The Atlanta Falcons don’t even see an NFC South team until their ninth game of the year. That’s a little unusual.

The first matchup will pit them against the Panthers, who are still a good enough team to cause trouble in the here and now, but have had a deeply worrying offseason beyond the draft. Any team with a strong defense, Cam Newton, and some intriguing weapons on offense will be dangerous, though, and it wouldn’t be overly surprising if the Panthers were in the hunt for the NFC South until later in the year.

On the other side of the ledger, this is a team that just gave Matt Kalil an insane deal, fired well-respected GM Dave Gettleman and replaced him with former cap killer Marty Hurney, and still has less-than-stellar pieces in the secondary. It’ll be interesting to see what they can manage against the Falcons.

Here to fill us in on this sure-to-be fun game is Cat Scratch Reader with a season preview.

Carolina Panthers

Notable free agent additions: DE Julius Peppers, CB Captain Munnerlyn, OT Matt Kalil, S Mike Adams,

Notable free agent departures: WR Ted Ginn, OT Mike Remmers, FB Mike Tolbert, DT Paul Soliai, LB AJ Klein

Trades: None

Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies: RB Christian McCaffrey, WR Curtis Samuel, OT Taylor Moton, DE Daeshon Hall.

While the Panthers continue to say veteran RB Jonathan Stewart will get the bulk of the work I think they will have a hard time not putting the ball in McCaffrey’s hands. I think he’s going to be electric as a rookie.

Biggest offseason addition: DE Julius Peppers - The Panthers all time sack leader returns home. So far the fans have welcomed him home with open arms.

Biggest storyline heading into training camp: QB Cam Newton’s continued recovery from offseason shoulder surgery. He is expected to be ready for training camp but had only begin throwing recently.

Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp: LB Shaq Thompson looks ready for a breakout season as the third All Pro LB in the Panthers starting line up.

Notable injuries heading into training camp: None beyond Newton’s rotator cuff.