The Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons meet for the second time this season with all illusions dispelled. The Panthers are not a playoff team, and neither are the Falcons, and they’ll be showing up together at Bank of America Stadium knowing full well just how disappointing their 2018 seasons have been. The Falcons and Panthers will have little to prove, when all is said is done, except that one might be better than the other.
Is that important, when a top five draft pick in this class might be transformative? I’d argue no, but the Panthers are trying to keep a head coach in a job and the Falcons are trying to prove they...well, that they don’t suck. I expect a pretty game effort by both teams.
If you’re someone who is invested in whether this a win or a loss, here’s what you need to worry about and what you can feel good about.
Feel confident about stopping this passing game
The Panthers aren’t as bad as Josh Rosen’s Cardinals through the air, but with Taylor Heinicke under center, they’re unlikely to be significant better. These Panthers have a promising future #1 in D.J. Moore, but no Greg Olsen, no Cam Newton, and a bunch of middling options outside of that. Aside from Heinicke simply checking down to Christian McCaffrey 20 times in this one, the chances of the Panthers having a successful day passing against a suddenly decent pass rush and swaggery Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford seems slim at best.
Of course, the Falcons won’t get the same break next week against a capable Buccaneers passing attack, so this is their last hurrah of the season. But it’s a great opportunity for the pass rush to gain a little more confidence, for the secondary to perform well, and for these Falcons to feel like they don’t have the worst defense in the entire world for one more week. Those opportunities are welcome.
Worry about this Falcons offense
Hey, since that one-sided win against Washington, here’s what some of the options in the passing game have managed in six games:
Calvin Ridley: 23 receptions, 236 yards, 1 touchdown
Mohamed Sanu: 26 receptions, 298 yards, 0 touchdowns
Austin Hooper: 28 receptions, 336 yards, 2 touchdowns
In that same timeframe, Julio Jones has gone for 40 receptions, 579 yards, and five touchdowns. Because Julio has been so good, we’ve been less inclined to comment on the fact that everyone else has been between okay and useless, with Ridley hitting a massive wall late in the season.
That’s why I’m extremely worried about how the Falcons will fare in this one. The offensive line isn’t going to fare as well against the Panthers as they did against the Cardinals, and Julio might have to sit this one alongside Ito Smith, who just hit injured reserve. Between that defensive line and some at least capable options in the secondary, it would not be surprising at all if Matt Ryan and company couldn’t get things going in any meaningful fashion. Given that they’ve only managed a true offensive outburst against Arizona, I don’t expect them to be prolific in this one, despite their evident talent.