Falcons Divisional Matchups - Carolina Panthers

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Falcons Divisional Matchups - Carolina Panthers
(Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

The Panthers and Falcons finished first and second in the NFC South last year and are both candidates for the 2009 title. The two teams match up very well against each other and have taken three games apiece from the last six meetings.

One of the most intriguing factors about the Falcons vs. Panthers is how similar the teams are statistically. The following table reflects this fact:

OFFENSE
                       Points/Game             Pass Yards/Game      Rushing Yards/Game
Carolina 
         25.9                         197.4                       152.3
Atlanta
             24.4                         208.5                       152.7


DEFENSE

                   Points/Game             Pass Yards/Game      Rushing Yards/Game
Carolina
          20.6                          211.7                     119.5
Atlanta
           20.3                          220.4                     127.5

Because the teams were so close in their production in 2008, an important factor is the new additions from the offseason and the possible impact those players will have. The difference-maker in these games could be a standout rookie or new addition to a team who pushes them to the next level.

 

Falcons Defense vs. Panthers Offense

One of the keys for the Falcons defense will be to keep Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme out of the end zone. In 2008, Carolina was 10-1 when Delhomme threw for a touchdown and 4-0 when he scored multiple times in a game.

The Carolina receivers will also be a challenge for the Falcons as Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad are both standout players. The receiving corps is not very deep—Smith and Muhammad combined for more than 71 percent of the receiving yards for the team. 

The Falcons had trouble holding both receivers in check last year as they gave up 147 yards to Muhammad in the first meeting and 168 yards to Smith in the second game.

The Panthers rushing attack is also a threat to the Falcons as Carolina ranked third in rushing last year. The deadly duo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart contributed towards 2,437 yards and 30 touchdowns on the ground for the Panthers in 2008.

Carolina has a very balanced attack that can beat you either through the air or with the run. With a lot of changes on defense, the Falcons have the potential to build and improve upon last year's mediocre unit. This matchup is one that could make rookies Peria Jerry or William Moore the difference maker against a strong Panthers offense.

 

Falcons Offense vs. Panthers Defense

In the two meetings last year between the Panthers and Falcons, Atlanta showed up with very different offensive units. In the first game the Falcons had only 268 yards of offense. The second game saw Matt Ryan pass for 259 yards while the Falcons rushing attack went for 133 yards and four Michael Turner touchdowns.

One of the keys to beating the Carolina defense is to run the ball. Overall the team gave up 119.5 yards rushing per game, but in the four losses opponents ran for an average of 173.8 yards. As the Falcons build off the solid performance of Turner in 2008, look for them to try to exploit Carolina’s run defense in this matchup. 

Atlanta’s passing attack will also be very dangerous against the Panthers secondary.  Matt Ryan will have a new target in Tony Gonzalez, who should open up the possibility to move the ball through the air. The receivers are a lot more experienced and the depth of the Falcons offense gives them an advantage. If the Panthers do not tighten up their pass defense, Atlanta could have a big day on offense.

 

Special Teams

Another similarity between these two franchises is the kicking game. Both teams have highly efficient veteran kickers; the Falcons with Jason Elam and the Panthers with John Kasay. If the meeting comes down to a last-minute field goal, both teams have a kicker who can handle the pressure and win the game.

The special teams are solid for both organizations, but neither team has a standout return man or a particularly good coverage unit. Unless either side makes a big mistake, don’t expect the special teams to make a big difference.

 

Prediction

Expect the matchup between the Panthers and Falcons to be very close. Both teams have a strong offense and have gotten quicker and younger on defense. Look for these rivals to split the season series as neither team has a distinct advantage.

The key for the Falcons on offense will be to run the ball effectively getting a lot of yards out of Turner. On defense, the Falcons need to contain both Muhammad and Smith and slow down the passing offense of the Panthers. If Atlanta finds a way to win both games against Carolina, they will be in a great position to win the NFC South.  

 

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