An NFC South Showdown
The Carolina Panthers are set to battle at home with division rival Atlanta Falcons this Sunday. While boasting the same 5-7 record, the Panthers are only 2-4 in home games, which does not bode well for them. Despite a 19-13 week 8 victory against the Dirty Birds, neither team has a distinct advantage. Former MVP Matt Ryan hardly looks to be his old self and former Panther OC, was fired over the bye week.
Carolina Panthers Keys to the Game
Carolina is hoping new play caller Jeff Nixon will be able to revive an offense that, according to PFF, ranks 25th in the NFL. Superstar running back Christian McCaffery will be out, yet again, leaving the Panthers without their biggest offensive weapon. Oklahoma State product Chuba Hubbard will take his spot in the backfield. They will likely look to wide receiver D.J. Moore to shoulder a heavy load this week. Of course, Carolina’s offensive revolves around former first overall pick Cam Newton. The QB is back home after a short stint in New England. Newton isn’t the player he was, thanks to a shoulder injury, but there is still a spark in him.
Defensively, much of the Panthers game plan will be how to stop Cordelle Patterson, who is having a career renaissance this season. Originally drafter as a wide receiver, Patterson spent much of his time as a punt and kick returner across the league. However, Falcons head coach Arthur Smith has been able to utilize him in ways few coaches have been able to do. Additionally, look for edge rushers Brian Burns and Hasson Reddick to try and prevent Matt Ryan from being able to establish any rhythm in the passing game. Newly acquired cornerback Stephon Gilmore will look to help shutting down the passing game, as well. Other than first round pick TE Kyle Pitts, Atlanta does not have much to fear in their aerial attack.
Carolina Panthers, up-and-coming safety Jeremy Chinn will be this weeks X-Factor. Chinn is developing and improving every single week that he has been in the league. Currently, he has 8 tackles for loss or for no gain, which leads the NFL. I would look for Chinn to move up in the box fairly often in order to minimize the Falcons rushing attack.
For the Falcons, they desperately need an offensive spark. In this past year’s draft, they selected University of Florida TE Kyle Pitts to be that spark. Although he has performed well in some games this year, he haws been silenced in others. Finding the correct balance of deep and intermediate passes to the TE will be crucial for Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense this week.
Mathematically, neither team has been eliminated from playoff contention just yet, giving even more weight to this game. Neither of these offenses strike fear into their opponents, especially with McCaffery sidelined with another injury. I expect the Carolina Panther defense to come up huge this week and with that being said, my final score prediction is 20-14 Carolina.
Brian Burns: 2 sacks
Jeremy Chinn: 1 INT
Kyle Pitts: 1 TD
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