Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers
Chase Irle: If you have been keeping track, I have the Falcons at 6-1 to this point. It may seem like a forgone conclusion that they make the playoffs if they are 6-1 come week 9, but remember they were 6-1 in Dan Quinn’s first season as head coach and failed to make the playoffs, finishing 8-8 on the season.
A lot of those problems that year came from inside the division where they finished 1-5. The Panthers mark the first division opponent of the season, and let’s get right down to it, this will be a much better team than we saw last year. The Super Bowl clearly had an effect on the Panthers last season, and while I am not a firm believer in the Super Bowl hangover and do not think the Falcons will experience one, the Panthers are proof it can be a problem.
This game has “TRAP” written all over it. The Falcons will be playing their third road game in a row and play on primetime against the Dallas Cowboys the following week. Throw in the fact that this is a fierce division rivalry, and the Falcons could be in serious trouble in week 9.
We have seen the underdog conquer multiple times in recent history in this particular rivalry. Obviously, the Falcons upset the Panthers quest for perfection two seasons ago, winning at home 20-13. But the Panthers beat the Falcons back in 2012 at Bank of America Stadium when Atlanta was 11-1 and Carolina was a lowly 3-9 at the time. This rivalry can get heated, so throw out the records and get ready for a fun one.
When the day comes, I expect this to be a low scoring affair. The Falcons high-powered offense will have a tough time getting going against an improved Panthers defense. If the Falcons offensive line is not playing up to the level it did a year ago, this Panthers front seven could be a real problem. Carolina has the best defensive line in the division, and with a linebacking core led by Luke Keuchley, the Panthers should find themselves back in the playoff mix behind an improved defense.
On the other side, Cam Newton has had games against Atlanta where he has been an absolute superstar, but also had several duds against the dirtybirds. But at home in a game where a lot could be on the table, expect to see the best form of the former MVP. That being said, I do still think it will be very hard for the Panthers to score against what will be a very good Falcons defense. Carolina added some weapons and especially speed on the offensive side, but unfortunately will be up against the fastest defense in the NFL.
It pains me to say it, but I think Carolina squeaks out a victory here. It will be a huge game at home for the team after being embarrassed by the Falcons twice last season. Like most teams, they will have Atlanta circled on their calendar and that is what will play the biggest difference. With the Falcons playing their final of three straight road games, they play one of their worst games of the season and fall in Carolina.
Prediction: Falcons 16, Panthers 23
Falcons season record: 6-2
Michael Arkin: You ever hear of the notorious “trap game?” The trap game basically means when a better overall team has their mint on a previous big game or future game, while overlooking the opponent in front of them. No offense to the Panthers, but the Falcons are a much more complete football team than Carolina. The problem though is I have a feeling that Atlanta will not match the intensity Carolina will come with this week.
Cam Newton has all the intangibles to be one of the best quarterbacks year in and year out. I mean look at the guy, he’s built like an athletic tight end with a cannon as an arm. He can run through you, around you, over you, while also being able to throw the ball anywhere he pleases. I just do not think he has the mindset that many great quarterbacks have, as Newton does not seem to be the best leader around. But Newton has been able to give the Falcons fits over the years and has a lot more weapons at his disposal this season.
Christian McCaffrey will likely be the starting running back in Carolina, and the Falcons defense will have their hands full trying to contain him. He also has Greg Olsen, one of the best tight ends, and Newton has always found a way to get the ball to him. Olsen had a big game against Atlanta last year, and I see him having another big one in Week 9.
The Panthers do in fact have a very solid defensive unit. Luke Kuechly bolsters his linebacking core with Kawann Short manning his big guys in the trenches. Kuechly is one of the best linebackers in the game, and Short has been a disruptive force in both the run and pass game. The secondary is the weak link on this Panthers defense, but their front seven is scary talented. That talent will be able to contain Ryan and the high-flying Falcons offense in a dud of a game, as the Falcons drop a game in the division.
Prediction: Carolina 24, Atlanta 13
Falcons season record: 6-2