Atlanta’s gone and gotten our hopes up, however slightly, which means I’m going into Falcons-Panthers with a little spring in my step. That doesn’t mean the Falcons are going to win this game—a road game against the Panthers is hardly a great bet—but it does mean we’re at least capable of conceiving of a scenario in which they win.
Let’s talk about why we should be confident it’ll happen and why we shouldn’t believe.
Feel confident in the Falcons offense...kind of
This Falcons offense is not the juggernaut of yesteryear, to say the least. Under Dirk Koetter, this is the least productive Falcons offense since 2017, and possibly even before. They haven’t been able to put up any massive offensive efforts this year, and that’s not likely to change in the very near future.
However, even with Austin Hooper and Devonta Freeman out, they have more than enough talent and ability to put up 20-plus against the Panthers, which may well be enough. Julio Jones is Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley could enjoy a breakout effort at any moment, and Russell Gage and Brian Hill are fine bets for good weeks. A healthy Matt Ryan and better offensive line performance should be enough by itself to overcome a Panthers defense that’s been horrible against the run and not among the league’s very best against the pass, and I’d be stunned if the Falcons really fell down on that side of the ball.
Worry about Christian McCaffrey
This is not to say that Kyle Allen isn’t capable, because he certainly is, or that the likes of D.J. Moore and Greg Olsen aren’t still dangerous players. It’s just that Christian McCaffrey is the single biggest threat the Falcons will face by a wide margin.
As good as the Falcons run defense has been at times this year, they struggled mightily in Week 1 against Dalvin Cook, who is in the conversation with McCaffrey for best back in the NFL. McCaffrey is also a massive threat as a receiver, and he absolutely killed the Falcons (better, somehow) defense a year ago through the air. Stopping him is priority #1 for this Falcons team.
Can they do it? They were barely tested by Alvin Kamara a week ago, but let’s just say my faith isn’t exactly high that this defense has turned the corner so thoroughly that they can shut down perhaps the NFL’s best back. It’ll be a tight game, and the Falcons just have to hope they can hold him in check enough that some mistakes from the likes of Allen will get them through the onslaught.