In Week 4 of the NFL regular season, the Carolina Panthers will play the Atlanta Falcons at Bank of America Stadium. While this game appears to be an easy win for the Panthers, let's take a closer look.
The Falcons offense has a couple potential playmakers, but it is still very limited.
Starting running back Michael Turner, acquired as an unrestricted free agent this offseason, was trapped behind Pro Bowl back LaDainian Tomlinson of the San Diego Chargers during his first four years in the league. While most of his stats—except for his average per-carry yardage—are less than impressive, the Falcons made him the starter because of his potential. Turner will pick up a maximum of 60 yards and a touchdown in this game.
Quarterback Matt Ryan, the third overall pick in this year's draft, is expected to start for the regular season, despite the fact that he is only 17-for-31 for 175 yards and 1 touchdown so far in the preseason. However, Ryan has been named the starter for the Falcons' next preseason game, so Falcons head coach Mike Smith must see something in Ryan he likes.
With the recent release of receiver Joe Horn and the loss of free agent tight end Alge Crumpler to the Titans, the only legitimate receiver the Falcons have is Roddy White, their No.1 option. In his breakout season last year, White accumulated 83 receptions for 1,202 yards and 6 touchdowns. However, despite the fact that White is the Falcons' No.1 receiver, don't expect him to exceed 80 yards on seven catches. He will be matched up with cornerback Ken Lucas, who posted 61 tackles, 12 pass deflections, and 2 interceptions in 2007.
Most of the Falcons' limited offensive firepower will be further hindered by the same inept offensive line that gave up about three sacks per game last year. In addition, Falcons running backs only averaged 95 yards rushing per game running behind this inadequate offensive line last in 2007.
The Panthers always want to run the ball, and the Falcons will likely have a tough time stopping it.
The Falcons defense that gave up 127 rushing yards per game last year is mostly the same. The only improvement is defensive back Von Hutchins, who racked up 93 tackles, 6 deflections, and 1 interception last year for the Texans. But he will have a hard time helping the rush defense, being a defensive back and all.
Then there's the Panthers pass offense. I see the Falcons pass defense struggling mightily to shut down the Carolina pass attack. It ranked 23rd in the NFL last season in passing yards allowed (228 PYPG), and the Panthers receiving corps will be in full force—Steve Smith will have returned from his suspension by then, and DJ Hackett and Muhsin Muhammad will certainly help. Expect the Panthers to pass for 250 yards and four touchdowns.
This game will be an easy blowout win for the Panthers. The Falcons really struggled last year on both sides of the ball, and hardly any improvements have been made to the team from last year's squad—the Panthers did the opposite; they made several key upgrades to the team that barely finished 7-9 last year.