NFL Game of the Week: Panthers vs. Falcons
The NFL regular season is coming to a close with many teams fighting for a spot in the postseason still. The biggest matchup in Week 17 is the Carolina Panthers versus the Atlanta Falcons, a game that will have major playoff implications.
Carolina is fighting with New Orleans for the NFC South crown, while the Falcons can clinch a wild-card berth with a win on Sunday.
The Panthers are coming into this matchup riding a three-game win streak and have won seven of their last eight games. Carolina is tied with New Orleans at 11-4 and can clinch the division with a win and a New Orleans loss.
Carolina beat Tampa Bay 22-19 last week, which clinched a playoff berth. The offense struggled a little for Carolina last week, but the special teams made enough plays to pull out the victory, including 103-yard kickoff return by Damiere Byrd.
Atlanta is currently 9-6 and can clinch a wild-card berth with a win or a loss by Seattle. The Falcons are coming off a lackluster loss to New Orleans last week where its division championship hopes vanished.
The Falcons looked half-motivated, which is terrible for a team that had hopes of winning the division. Matt Ryan threw for 288 yards and a touchdown, but he also threw an interception. Wideout Julio Jones was great against the Saints, but it wasn’t enough.
With so much on the line, I expect both Carolina and Atlanta to play their best game of the season.
Panthers’ Offense vs. Falcons’ Defense
The 2015 NFL MVP, in quarterback Cam Newton, leads the Carolina offense. Newton has been inconsistent this season, but when he is on, he is one of the best quarterbacks in the league. He has 27 total touchdowns and is also the leading rusher on the team, but he also has thrown 13 interceptions.
Carolina has a two-headed monster in the backfield led by Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey. Both backs have their strengths, making them such a dynamic duo. Stewart is the better true running back, but McCaffrey is a superb receiver out of the backfield, leading the team with 75 receptions.
Atlanta’s defense has been top ten this season in total yardage, with no glaring weakness. It will be interesting to see how this Falcon defense defends Newton and the dynamic weapons he has.
The anchors of Atlanta’s defense are Deion Jones and Keanu Neal. Both players have each totaled over 110 tackles on the season and have been playmakers for an Atlanta defense that lacks star power on this side of the ball.
The Falcons will look to pressure Newton on Sunday with their main pass rushing trio in Adrian Clayborn, Takkarist McKinley, and Vic Beasley Jr. The trio has combined for 19.5 sacks on the season.
Falcons’ Offense vs Panthers’ Defense
Atlanta is led by 2016 MVP and face of the franchise, Matt Ryan. Ryan has shown some regression this year after his MVP season in 2016. He has thrown 19 touchdowns compared to 12 interceptions.
Wideouts Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu are the main targets for Ryan. Jones, one of the top receivers in the game, is third in the league in receiving, but he has only three touchdowns this year. Sanu has added 632 yards and five touchdowns in a down year for him as well.
The running back duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman has been dynamic this season. They have combined for 15 touchdowns and over 1,400 rushing yards on the season.
Carolina’s defense has been one of the best in the league this year as they rank seventh in total yardage allowed. The Panthers have plenty of stars on their defense that ranks third in the league with 49 sacks.
The leader of the Carolina defense is All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly, who again leads the team in tackles with 115. Kuechly combined with Thomas Davis comprises arguably the best linebacker duo in the NFL.
The strength of the Panthers’ defense may be at the defensive end position where they have elite players in Mario Addison and Julius Peppers. The two have combined for 21.5 sacks on the season and will look to get after Matt Ryan on Sunday.
This game is one of the few with major playoff implications with both Carolina and Atlanta having something to fight for. Atlanta is looking to come back from a disappointing performance against New Orleans, while Carolina is fighting for a home playoff game.
ESPN gives Atlanta a 60.3 percent chance to win on Sunday. The Falcons have so much to play for, and they will be in front of a raucous Atlanta crowd. The Falcons squeak out a win to clinch the six seed, and Carolina falls to the five seed.
Prediction: Atlanta 23, Carolina 17
Camden Tofil is a freshman majoring in advertising. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.