When these two teams met earlier this year, the Falcons faced a team helmed by Sam Darnold that was missing their top weapon in Christian McCaffrey. The narrow win by Carolina was on the back of their defense as the offense only managed to score 19 points in that game. Will this second go-round in Charlotte play out differently?
Let’s take a look at the matchups.
In the trenches
The Falcons are the worst pass rushing team in the league. Again. The one thing Atlanta fans have clamored for over the past decade continues to elude them. Grady Jarrett and Dante Fowler have shown flashes at times, but no one else on this defensive front is remotely close to threatening the opposing QB on the regular. Ogundeji has long-term potential, but it hasn’t shown up in his rookie season. If this team is going to get pressure, it’s going to come from the secondary and in schemed blitzes.
For as bad as the Atlanta pass rush is, the Carolina offensive line may be worse. The only quality player on this line is right tackle Taylor Moton. Every other player on this line is - at best - mediocre as a pass blocker. Even if Cameron Erving were healthy, he wouldn’t be much of an upgrade as he was struggling before he got injured. This is a very bad unit and it is holding back what they can do offensively.
This is such a bad matchup that no one deserves to win it. Grady will probably win on the interior some, but placing hope in the Falcons pass rush is like burning $100 bills.
The skill positions
The Falcons have one fantastic player in the secondary in A.J. Terrell. He has been everything Atlanta fans hoped he would be and maybe more. He’s truly deserving of at least a Pro Bowl nod and you can easily make the case for All-Pro considerations. The rest of the secondary is not as great. Fabian Moreau has actually improved a good bit this year and is a decent CB2.
Darren Hall has mostly taken over as the slot CB and is decent, which is pretty good for a fourth round rookie. Safeties Duron Harmon and Erik Harris are decent enough in the secondary, but they’re hardly guys you want to build a defense around. Linebackers Foye Oluokun and Deion Jones are both talented, but struggling in a new defensive scheme.
Is Cam Newton better than Sam Darnold? Yes, but probably not substantially so. He still has the potential to make big plays on the ground but all his flaws as a passer are still there. He has not reversed the fortunes of this offense in the way that they hoped he would. Of course, losing Christian McCaffrey for the year has undoubtedly hurt this offense. D.J. Moore is a quality receiver while Robby Anderson has been a big let down for Carolina this year. Rookie running back Chuba Hubbard has done okay, but he offers little as a receiver.
Terrell is going to help limit the passing game for the Panthers and Newton will probably be under pressure throughout the day. The running game is not dominant enough to rely on and Atlanta has actually done a good job in recent weeks of limiting the run. Still, this is another toss-up because the Falcons defense is just not good and has struggled to get pressure.
Don’t bet on the Falcons defense. Also, don’t bet on the Carolina offense, especially after they felt the need to fire their offensive coordinator mid-season. Carolina is a team that is reeling but they’ll come into this game well rested. Atlanta has just enough key players on defense to keep this interesting. All of this adds up to a matchup that can be predicted by flipping a coin.