The Falcons make their way back into divisional play this week against the NFC South rival whom they have had the most success against in their history. Atlanta currently owns a 34-20 record against the Carolina Panthers.
After the Panthers won four of the first six matchups following their inception in 1995, Atlanta rattled off 12 wins in 14 meetings between 1998-2004, Carolina went 6-4 over the next 10 meetings to close out the mid-2000s and then Atlanta rattled off another five in a row after that, which coincided with the days of Jimmy Clausen and the start of the Cam Newton era.
Carolina’s best stretch against the Birds came between 2012-2015, when they won five out of six head to head matchups. That coincided with them winning the NFC South three straight times between 2013-2015. They actually clinched the division with Week 17 wins at the Georgia Dome in both 2013 and 2014, holding off the Saints and then Falcons in back-to-back seasons.
Atlanta has dominated the series since ending Carolina’s pursuit for a perfect regular season in 2015, going 10-3 in their last 13 head to head matchups against the Panthers.
Like most meetings between the Falcons and Panthers since 2017, it was a matchup between two teams that really had no real division aspirations but perhaps had some hope of being the final NFC Wildcard representative. Both teams went into Week 14 last year with a 5-7 record, knowing that the loser would theoretically be eliminated from playoff contention, even if not quite yet mathematically.
Carolina had run all over Atlanta en route to a win in the first matchup of the season, and they were looking to do so again, especially with Cam Newton having returned under center. He capped off a nine-play (six runs) opening drive with a 12-yard rushing touchdown, before Atlanta immediately responded with their own 11-play scoring drive which was capped off with a Cordarrelle Patterson touchdown scamper.
The key play of the game came in the second quarter when Ameer Abdullah ran a Texas route out of the backfield and was thrown a pass which was perfectly jumped by Mykal Walker, who secured an interception and returned it 66 yards for a touchdown, giving the Falcons a 14-7 lead. The Birds went into the half up 17-7 and staved off a comeback attempt that fell short thanks to some clutch play in particular from Atlanta’s defensive line in the second half. Atlanta won 29-21.
The Falcons kept their playoff hopes alive but those were pretty much also crushed with a loss the following week in Santa Clara. Neither of these franchises have made it to the playoffs since 2017. Both have picked in the top 10 of the draft in each of the past two seasons, but now the winner will have sole possession of the NFC South lead.