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What to know about the Falcons - Panthers matchup in Week 11

The Panthers have a vaguely disappointing air about them, but are they bad enough for the Falcons to beat them?

Atlanta Falcons v Carolins Panthers Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Getty Images

For at least one week, all is right with the world in Falconia, land of the football team that beat the Saints on Sunday. Will the good times continue against the Panthers, or will the Falcons come crashing down to earth again?

Depending on your perspective and depending on what you hope the Falcons will do, this article will either disappoint or delight you. To make it straightforward, the Panthers aren’t good enough to beat the Falcons team we saw on Sunday. They are absolutely good enough to beat the Falcons team we saw in the previous eight weeks, however, so it’ll be an entirely a question of which version of this team shows up.

Side-by-side comparison

How do the Falcons stack up against the Panthers? Not well, exactly—they don’t stack up well against many teams in the NFL right now—but it’s not the grim picture the Saints game appeared to be this time last week.

Falcons - Panthers Matchup

Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Points Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Created Turnovers Allowed
Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Points Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Created Turnovers Allowed
Falcons 3-9 18 11 2 30 27 23 26 17 30 25
Panthers 5-7 13 21 21 12 26 22 14 29 6 27

If you’re struck by the realization that this Panthers team looks solid but not particularly great more or less across the board, you’re not alone. Their pass defense has been above average, they’re extremely opportunistic when it comes to creating turnovers, and the ground game is obviously terrific with Christian McCaffrey leading the way. Beyond that, there’s nothing that suggests the Panthers should be pushing for a playoff spot in the NFC, and increasingly, they’re not.

That’s probably an unfair critique from a fan of one of the worst teams in football, but so sue me, that win over the Saints has buoyed me. The Panthers, meanwhile, are coming off a tough loss to the Packers where they put up just 16 points. They have put up fewer than 20 points four times this season, and their 225 points/228 points against ratio on the season suggests they’re a .500 football team, which they nearly are.

Can they beat the Falcons? Absolutely. Kyle Allen is a capable caretaker, if little more, but they have quality receiving options and McCaffrey, who is going to be a bear to contain on Sunday. I just wouldn’t be particularly surprised if Atlanta won, either, given that this is not the Carolina juggernaut of yesteryear.

How the Panthers have changed

The biggest change is one mostly spurred by injury, and that’s the switch from Cam Newton to Kyle Allen.

It needs to be stressed that the Panthers have botched Cam Newton’s entire career, more or less, by repeatedly failing to surround him with weapons or put a quality offensive line in front of him. Newton is not the game’s finest passer, but he was consistently a good one, and his bruising running ability combined with that to make him one of the NFL’s most dangerous players. In exchange for that excellence, he got to deal with a largely incompetent front office, a definitely incompetent medical staff, and has now been supplanted by Allen, who looks like he’ll be a league average starting quarterback at best in a pass-happy era going forward. The Panthers are reportedly going to move on from him.

Allen gives the Panthers a steady hand at the tiller and a live enough arm, but long-term I’m not sure he’s the answer they need.

Beyond that, the Panthers did good team-building work in the offseason, adding Gerald McCoy to an already stacked (on paper) defensive line, adding top-shelf pass rusher Brian Burns and promising offensive lineman Greg Little, and some interesting later round fliers. The addition of Matt Paradis at center hasn’t worked out spectacularly, but he’s a good player and the Panthers absolutely need a better offensive line, so it was solid enough.

If I sound just whelmed by the Panthers, it’s because I am. They have some truly great players and Burns should become another one, but the pieces never seem to come together into a truly cohesive whole.

What should you know about this game?

It’s winnable. I’ve obviously mixed too much swagger into my morning shake after that one win against the Saints, but there’s little question the Falcons stack up well enough against this Panthers team to pull off the road win. The question is simply whether they’ll string together two good performances or if that Saints beatdown took all their juice.

The Panthers run the ball exceptionally well with Christian McCaffrey, but the Falcons are solid enough against the run to prevent him from breaking the game open, though he’ll unfortunately eat through the air (he had 26 receptions in two games last year against the Falcons). Allen is capable of a fine game, but he’s certainly not Drew Brees, and tight coverage and a solid effort from the pass rush will ensure he doesn’t look anything like a Hall of Famer for another week. The Panthers are primed to get gashed on the ground with an awful run defense and Brian Hill and Qadree Ollison bringing some power to the matchup, and the Falcons passing game is too good even without Austin Hooper to be held in check by a quality Panthers pass defense.

That’s sunny, eh? The problem is that I’m basing all this on a simple game sample size, which most certainly isn’t wise. If the Falcons can’t sustain the energy and count on the Panthers to make some mistakes, Carolina is absolutely good enough to destroy them at home in their own stadium. Given the effort we’ve seen throughout most of the 2019 season to this point, it’s probably best to say Atlanta can win if everything breaks right, but aren’t favorites in this game for plenty of good reasons.