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It's Panthers-Falcons, Round 2 (Minus #1)

Sharon Thorsland
December 21, 2018 - 12:03 pm

It's the final home game of the season for the Panthers, who take on the Falcons at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday. Kick-off is set for 1:00 on WBT. Both teams are dinged up - the Falcons are missing several key starters, including Pro Bowl safety Keanu Neal and Pro Bowl running back Devonta Freeman. And the Panthers will take the field without their star quarterback – Cam Newton and his sore shoulder will sit this one out. The Falcons have already been eliminated from the postseason at 5-9 on the year, while the Panthers still have a sliver of hope to make the postseason. But to do it, they've got to snap their six-game losing streak with Taylor Heinicke under center.

“It doesn't matter who's the quarterback, we've still got to get our job done and do whatever it takes to get a win,' said Panther receiver Jarius Wright.”

While Heinicke will be making his first ever NFL start, the Falcons have an 11-year veteran at quarterback in Matt Ryan.

The 2016 MVP directs a high powered passing attack that ranks 5th in the NFL at over 288 yards per game. Ryan has plenty of weapons, starting with 7-time Pro Bowler Julio Jones.

He leads the NFL with 1511yards, and has caught six touchdowns in the last seven games, and is a matchup nightmare. “You got to know where that guy is at all times,” said Panther linebacker Thomas Davis. “As a defense, we gotta make sure we come out with our hair on fire.”

Jones has an outstanding running mate in fellow Alabama alum Calvin Ridley, the rookie has 8 touchdowns. And even though the Falcons are missing Freeman, they've still got dynamic running back Tevin Coleman.

He's a dual threat with nearly 1000 combined yards and 8 scores. But the Panther defense looked to be back to their old selves on Monday night against the Saints, and they rank 7tn in the NFL allowing just 102 rushing yards per game.

The Falcons have had all sorts of problems on defense this season, they rank near the bottom of the league in every defensive category. But things are looking up – star middle linebacker Deion Jones is back after missing 11 weeks with a foot injury.

And he's got help from fellow Pro Bowler Bruce Irvin, who picked up three and a ½ sacks last week against the Cardinals.

Up front, a pair of former Clemson standouts anchor the line in Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett, and 2nd-year defensive tackle Takk McKinley has 5.5 sacks.

Considering both starting safeties are on I-R, the Falcons secondary has actually been pretty good. They've got a pair of veteran cornerbacks in Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, and 2nd-year safety Damontae Kazee has stepped up big, he leads the team with six interceptions.

There might not be a lot riding on this game, but it's still a big one for both teams. The Panthers still have an outside shot at making the playoffs, and they want nothing more than to snap their six-game skid.

The Falcons won the last game between these teams, a 31-14 victory in Atlanta, but the Panthers have won four of the last six matchups in Charlotte. And of course, this is a rivalry game, so none of those stats really matter.

“All that goes out the window,” said Panthers offensive lineman Trai Turner. “When you're playing division opponents, records go out the window, last games go out the window – it's a totally different ballgame.

So I'm expecting to get their best shot, I know they're going to get mine, and I know they're going to bring it.

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