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What you need to know about Falcons - Panthers in Week 4

The Panthers are a solid, sturdy football team facing a rickety Falcons squad. Who will prevail?

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons get their first divisional game of the season, and it’s against the Carolina Panthers. In years past, this would be an easy get-right game, given that Atlanta has historically rolled right by them.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, the Panthers are 2-2, have a new coach and new quarterback, and look like a solid squad rounding into some level of success. Atlanta desperately needs this win for their own morale and their futures, but is there any reason to believe they’ll get it?

Falcons - Panthers comparison

Brace yourself: This is not a pretty comparison.

Falcons - Panthers 2020

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 0-4 14 8 5 23 31 31 31 10 15 4
Panthers 2-2 18 12 8 14 19 10 8 21 6 1

The Falcons boast a better offense on paper and in real life, but the gap in production between these two offenses has not been as significant as I would like. The Carolina defense, meanwhile, is light years better than Atlanta’s and a legitimate top 10 unit against the pass. They started off shaky with a loss to the Raiders and a bad loss to the Buccaneers, but after getting outscored 65-47 in their first two games, they’ve dispatched the Chargers and Cardinals by a combined score of 52-37. They look like they’re figuring things out, in other words.

This is the mark of a team that has a fresh infusion of talent and a new coach after a long, long time under an old one, and Carolina has shrugged off injuries to the likes of Christian McCaffrey to get to .500. They’ve been led by an efficient Teddy Bridgewater, a capable Mike Davis on the ground, and the dangerous deep ball talent D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson bring to the offense, which has made them a fine offense thus far, though not a great one.

Defensively, they’re not doing anything particularly flashy, but solid coverage and pressure are making a difference despite a lack of interceptions (2 thus far) or sacks (3 thus far). This is just a solid football team that will probably only get better as they get more comfortable.

That’s in stark contrast to the Falcons, who slipped in the offensive rankings after a very mediocre week against the Packers and are still one of the worst defenses in the NFL. There’s just not much to feel good about right now minus this team’s history against Carolina, which has been quite good.

How the Panthers have changed since the last time

A lot.

The Falcons were used to pushing around Ron Rivera’s Panthers, but Ron Rivera is gone. In his place is Matt Rhule, a spiffy new college hire and one of the hottest candidates of last year’s cycle. I have no idea how good Rhule will prove to be, but he’s off to a solid start here and has a ton of job security.

The Panthers signed Teddy Bridgewater to be a bridge to their next franchise quarterback, a role Bridgewater could comfortably serve in for 2-3 seasons if the Panthers play themselves out of contention for one of the top quarterback options this year. They signed Robby Anderson to pitch in on offense and drafted primarily defense, all part of a slow rolling set of improvements they’re hoping take them into real contention next year and beyond. They’re already good enough to hang around in the NFC South, which is a real victory and something the Falcons will probably be keen to emulate, even if the circumstances and players are very different.

What you need to know for Week 4

Yet again, the Falcons are matching up against an opponent that has a better record and just looks better than them thus far in 2020, a streak that won’t be broken until the Falcons square off against the Lions. The Panthers aren’t the best team the Falcons have faced this year and Atlanta’s won 8 of their last 9 games against them, but so much has changed that I’m not sure that last piece is something we should hang our hats on.

The grim reality is that the Panthers are well-equipped to take advantage of Atlanta’s weaknesses, which have been on display for the world to see over the past four weeks. Mike Davis has reeled in 21 of his 23 targets and the Falcons can’t stop running backs from catching the ball, especially since they may once again be without their top three safeties in Week 5. Ian Thomas has been a non-factor thus far at tight end, which is a mild relief, but Robby Anderson and D.J. Moore can hurt this team deep where they’ve struggled all year. Defensively, Carolina is just solid, and the Packers parlayed a just solid defense into an embarrassing shutdown of the Atlanta offense.

The good news is that the Panthers are not the Packers, in terms of talent or results to this point, so the Falcons should at least be able to stay in this game. They’ll be in the cozy confines of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, after all, and there’s a chance they’ll have at least one starting safety back, A.J. Terrell, and maybe even Takk McKinley, which would provide a genuine boost to this defense. Given that this team now functionally has nothing to play for except a miracle playoff berth that is not going to happen, maybe they’ll loosen up and play somewhat well, too.

On paper, though, this is another solid football team that’s playing smart football, and the Falcons have done little against that in 2020. They’ll have to buck many trends to get by Carolina and start climbing the ladder in the NFC South.