Panthers Back at Home for Huge Division Game

Sharon Thorsland
November 03, 2017 - 8:25 am

USA Today Images

It feels like forever since we've had a Sunday afternoon football game at Bank of America Stadium – six weeks to be exact.  We finally get one this weekend as the Panthers welcome the Atlanta Falcons for an NFC South showdown, and it should be a good one.  The Falcons are coming off a 25-20 win over the Jets, snapping a 3-game losing streak to move to 4-3 on the season.  The Panthers ended a 2-game skid with a big division win over the Bucs and are 5-3 on the year.


This is a match-up of one of the NFL's best offenses versus one of its stingiest defenses.  The Falcons rank 5th in the league averaging over 374 yards per game, while the Panthers allow just 264 yards a contest, that's 2nd in the league.  As usual it's 4-time Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Ryan running Atlanta's offense.  Last season's MVP isn't off to the best start – he's thrown just 9 touchdowns and and has 6 interceptions and three lost fumbles.  But he's still one of the best in the game – and he's got Julio!  All-pro receiver Julio Jones has shredded the Panther defense in the past, including lighting them up for 300 yards in their first meeting last season.  Jones finished 2nd in the NFL in receiving yards last year and leads the Falcons with 37 catches for 540 yards this season.  He teams with Mohamed Sanu, speedy Taylor Gabriel, and former East Carolina standout Justin Hardy, and is nearly impossible to slow down.  “Definitely a great player, explosive,” said Panther safety Mike Adams.  “But what we want to do is limit him.  Players like that you can't take away, you want to limit what they do.”


The Falcons running game is no slouch, either.  They've got a pair of explosive running backs in two time Pro Bowler Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.  Freeman has 486 yards and five touchdowns, and Coleman is averaging a whopping 5.4 yards per carry.  They'll face a Panther defense that ranks 5th in the NFL against the run, allowing under 82 yards a contest.


Defensively the falcons are playing about as well as they have in years, ranking in the top half of the league in nearly every category, including 11th in total defense.  They've got a ton of young talent, starting with former Clemson standout Vic Beasley.  The third year linebacker earned his first Pro Bowl honors last season.  The Falcons added All-Pro defensive tackle Dontari Poe to the front line, which already featured defensive ends Courtney Upshaw and Brooks Reed.  The secondary is solid with veterans Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant at cornerback and hard-hitting safety Ricardo Allen.


This is an important game for the Panthers.  Number one, it's a division game.  Number two, it's against one of their biggest rivals – who happen to be the defending NFC champs.  Not to mention the Falcons have won three in a row in the this series.  It all adds up to what receiver Russell Shepard calls a huge game.  “These are the games that dictate whether you go to the playoffs or not, these are the games that dictate your season,” said Shepard.  “These are the games that no matter how you win them, you just want to get a win.”


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