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Where the Atlanta Falcons stand heading into Week 16’s matchup with the Carolina Panthers

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Atlanta’s just winding this thing down, but the opportunities for young and unproven players loom.

Carolina Panthers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Ahead of tomorrow’s matchup, I thought we’d take our customary look at where the Atlanta Falcons stand before their next game. This is the second-to-last time we’ll be able to do so in 2018, for better or for worse.

Roster updates

The Falcons had to put Ito Smith on injured reserve. Supposedly he’ll be fine by the time the season kicks off in 2019, which is a huge relief given how well he showed out throughout much of this season.

With Smith on IR, the Falcons called up Jeremy Langford from the practice squad. Langford struggled mightily on a play-by-play basis, but put up 10 rushing touchdowns in two NFL seasons and managed 41 receptions over those two years with the Bears. He’s young enough to get another look from Atlanta, and with the Falcons potentially looking to replace Tevin Coleman with Brian Hill, Langford or a draft pick, it’s worth taking a look at what he can do these final two weeks.

Health

Julio Jones might miss this game, which removes one of the few joyous things left about this Falcons season. And, as we mentioned, Ito hit injured reserve, which means we won’t get to watch him either.

The Falcons have been defined by their health this season, and while they’ve gotten Deion Jones and returned to relative health in the last few weeks, we’re right back to injuries being problematic. I hate this year.

What’s at stake?

For Carolina, a lot, potentially. This team has a new owner and could decide to end the Ron Rivera era, one of the most successful in team history, if Carolina gets beat by Atlanta and New Orleans over these last two weeks. That change could be a positive for this Panthers team, but that’s always an uncertainty.

For Atlanta, the stakes are lower. They’re not firing their head coach but may well fire their coordinators, so they’ll be looking for improvement from both sides of the ball over the last couple of weeks. If they get some killer performances out of impending free agents and young players they might want to build on, that’s a huge bonus for them, but this is all about evaluation at this point.

Also, if you’re a draft hound, you want the Falcons to lose so they can keep a top five pick and try to land a truly elite lineman, offensive or defensive.

Outlook

The Falcons should be able to win this one against a dispirited, banged up Carolina team, but as they’re on the road and this Carolina defense is tough, I doubt they will. To be clear, I won’t be overly upset either way, because we’re simply too late in a lost year for that.

I just hope for a good, entertaining football game from these Falcons, and no further long-term injuries. Everything else is gravy.