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What to know about Falcons - Panthers on Thursday Night Football

Slop ‘em up.

NFL: OCT 30 Panthers at Falcons Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The last time the Falcons and Panthers played, two short weeks ago, the lead changed on a seemingly drive-by-drive basis, Atlanta effectively lost the game twice before winning it, and everyone involved agreed it was one of the absolute strangest games they had ever been a part of.

There has not been enough time to properly digest that game, and we’re getting a short week in Atlanta’s only primetime matchup of the week, this time in Carolina. To say confidently predicting the course of this game—or hell, even the outcome—is a difficult task would be to understate things. We just don’t know what’s going to happen, given the circumstances and given the last game these two teams played.

All we can do is sort through what’s happened the past two weeks, see where these two teams stand, and take a stab in the dark. Let’s do that now.

Team rankings

Falcons - Panthers comparison

Both of these teams are struggling mightily at the moment, but one of them is among the very worst teams in football, and the other is the Falcons.

Carolina can’t do anything well on a consistent basis. They can’t throw consistently, they can’t run consistently, they can’t stop opposing offenses consistently, and they can’t get turnovers consistently. All of that adds up to a team that is in the bottom third to bottom quarter of the league in every metric you can think of, and a couple of frisky efforts against the Buccaneers and Falcons hasn’t erased that. They’ll finish, in all likelihood, with a top five selection in the 2023 NFL Draft.

The Falcons, meanwhile, do two things really well: Stop the run and run the ball themselves. They do two things really poorly: Stop the pass and pass themselves. While they’ve had some quality days through the air and occasionally slow opposing passing attacks, enough to have them win some games, those are their weaknesses and that doesn’t seem likely to change in the near term.

How the Panthers have changed

Incredibly, Carolina has changed in the past couple of weeks. They fired a pair of assistant coaches, cornerbacks coach Evan Cooper and defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni, so we’ll see whether that makes any difference on Thursday night against the Falcons.

Otherwise, it’s the same team we just saw. We might see Chuba Hubbard back and contributing at running back, but the Panthers probably are better off just bludgeoning the Falcons with D’Onta Foreman again.

What lies ahead

Man, who knows.

The last game was so wild that players and coaches were moved to comment on just how crazy the course of the afternoon was, with Arthur Smith suggesting it gave him gray hairs. This game, with both teams coming off ugly losses, on short weeks, and playing odd, mistake-filled football over the past couple of weeks, could be anything from a dull slugfest to another lifespan-shaving scoring explosion. I genuinely do not know what to expect.

Add in the forecast—there’s a good chance of significant rainfall and maybe even thunderstorms—and you have the added turnover potential and slowed offense that implies. Marquice Williams certainly is proceeding as though that might be a problem.

What I do know is the Falcons should again win this one. Atlanta has the more stable coaching staff and leadership, the better offense, and the more reasonable path to victory against a Carolina team that is going to remain a mess until they make a good decision with their next head coach and acquire their quarterback of the future. The Falcons can run effectively against the Panthers, especially with Patterson back, and Marcus Mariota and company just did fairly strong work against them two weeks ago, minus a couple of mistakes. Surely P.J. Walker and D’Onta Foreman won’t do that well again, right? Right?

Expecting some regression from a Panthers team that had no business scoring 34 points and expecting the Falcons to bounce back a bit after playing some of their worst football of the season is reasonable enough, in other words, and that should be a winning combination.

Regardless, this figures to be the kind of game you have to grit your teeth a bit to get through, which is what we’ve come to expect from the Falcons over the past couple of weeks. Hopefully they get out of Carolina with a win and head into the bye at .500, but we’ll just have to see what Thursday Night Football has in store for us.