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What to know for Falcons - Panthers on Thursday Night Football

Carolina already beat Atlanta once, so expecting vastly different results here is probably a fool’s errand.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a short week for the Atlanta Falcons, who have to travel to face the Carolina Panthers for the second time this season. They’ve lost to Carolina once already and are coming off another crushing last second loss that I’m going to harp on in this piece because it’s still annoying me, so this is not exactly the week you’d want to be facing a divisional opponent who seems very capable of playing them tough again.

Let’s take a closer look at the matchup, which features a couple of significant injury-related changes for the Falcons and Panthers.

Falcons - Panthers comparison

Neither team has changed all that much since two weeks ago. The Falcons are healthier now and should, in theory, thus stand a better chance against the Panthers. In practice I have no idea if that’ll be true, because in theory a healthy Falcons team should’ve been able to score more than 22 points against the Lions and utterly failed to do so.

Week 8 Comparison

Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Points Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Giveaways
Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Points Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Giveaways
Falcons 1-6 13 6 3 20 26 31 31 6 20 7
Panthers 3-4 25 16 11 20 13 13 10 18 11 4

The Panthers are weirdly bad at scoring, but they’re quietly pretty effective between the 20s and have a strong defense. Pair that with a habit of taking care of the football and you have a team that is not going to be easy for the Falcons to beat again, and a team that took the Saints almost to the wire on Sunday.

The Falcons, meanwhile, remain one of the most frustrating teams in the league. They clamped down hard on the Lions until late in the game, when the defense customarily collapsed, and on balance it’s still one of the worst Ds in the NFL. The offense has a ton of talent and they are perfectly capable of hanging at least a 30 burger on Carolina, but in practice the results have been too uneven to believe anything special is going to happen.

This game could go either way based on the talent on the field, but the Falcons didn’t give us much to feel good about last time and are coming off another tough loss, so expect nothing.

How the Panthers have changed since the last time

The only major item of note is that Christian McCaffrey seems to be on the verge of returning, and could suit up Thursday night against the Falcons. Yes, the Panthers might be stronger than they were the last time, which would help negate any advantage Atlanta gets by being healthier themselves.

McCaffrey is not a Falcons killer by himself—he somewhat improbably has just one touchdown in six games against them—but he rarely struggles to keep drives alive both on the ground and through the air, and this Falcons defense looks worse than the one he saw a year ago. Mike Davis did very well against Atlanta the last time out, so it’s fair to worry about what a difference McCaffrey might make.

What to know for the game ahead

In a way, the Falcons did us all a favor by losing in that fashion against Detroit, because it pulverized any germinating hopes that things might get better and stay better for Atlanta the rest of the season. They’ll win more games, I’m quite certain, but it’s going to be difficult to go into any week except the one against the Broncos and feel confident about a victory.

This one’s no exception. The Panthers could have their hyper-productive lead back in action, Teddy Bridgewater was incredibly efficient en route to 313 yards and 2 touchdowns last time out, and the return of Julio Jones may or may not be enough to lift this passing game to the kind of heights that will be necessary to win this game. Remember, Todd Gurley annihilated the Panthers last time out, and a shaky passing game still translated to just 16 points for Atlanta. The Falcons probably need to score 30 to win this one, but that’s easier said than done given that they’ve done so just once this season.

This is a winnable game, but the last Panthers game was winnable and the Falcons lost it. Heck, Detroit was a winnable game, and the Falcons lost it. That’s been the story of the season, by and large, and Carolina is going to be motivated to push hard for a victory because they’re still nominally in the NFC playoff picture. It’d take the passing attack getting untracked in the same fashion it did against Minnesota for me to feel really good about victory here, and a balanced Carolina team that excels at keeping games close is not the opponent a team that just lost in the final seconds to Detroit wants to see on a short week.