The Atlanta Falcons look poised to improve their chances at making the postseason this year, but the team must be ready to play this Sunday, when they take on the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium. The Falcons, currently 7-5 and fresh off a disappointing 17-10 loss to the Houston Texans, have already beat the 4-8 Panthers once this season, a 31-17 victory back in Week 6. The Panthers have shown promise throughout the 2011 season, including last week’s 38-19 victory over the slumping Buccaneers that gave Carolina a two-game winning streak, so it goes without saying that the Falcons better not sleepwalk through this matchup.
In order for the Falcons’ offense to get the scoring going in this game, running back Michael Turner needs to get his carries and make the most of them. Turner has struggled in his last two games, taking just 33 carries for 104 yards in two games that the Falcons struggles moving the ball led to tight games. The Panthers defense has been putrid against the run so far this year, giving up an average of 133 yards per game (27th in the NFL). Turner is still 4th in the league in rushing despite setbacks the last couple of games, but all it takes is a big game against Carolina to turn it all around. If Turner gains at least 100 yards in this game, expect the Falcons to outlast the Panthers in this one.
Defensively, the Falcons need to force Cam Newton to make bad passes. While Newton has played outstanding for a rookie and looks like a viable contender for the Rookie of the Year award, he has had trouble throwing the ball to the other team, seen by his 14 interceptions so far this season. In the Panthers’ four victories in 2011, Newton has been able to hold on to the ball, throwing just three touchdowns with 0 interceptions; Meanwhile, he has thrown fourteen INTs compared to just 10 touchdowns in Carolina’s eight losses. Atlanta needs to make Newton think he has to make a ton of big plays early on in this one, which will lead to some big opportunities for the Atlanta defense. If the Falcons intercept Newton at least twice, you can bank on the Falcons to win this game.
Game Preview: This game goes down to the wire thanks to some big plays by Cam Newton, who has 204 passing yards and 2 touchdowns along with 73 rushing yards and 1 touchdown and gives the Panthers a 24-21 lead with 3:05 left in the fourth quarter. Looking to make up for last week’s last-second lost to Houston, Matt Ryan leads a 7-play, 79 yard drive that ends with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Tony Gonzalez, his second of the afternoon. Carolina gets the ball with fifteen seconds left, but it isn’t enough time to make anything happen. Falcons 28, Panthers 24
Passing: Matt Ryan has a nice game against the Panthers, throwing for 223 yards and 3 touchdowns with 1 INT.
Rushing: Michael Turner has a bounce-back game in this one despite a groin injury, taking 22 carries for 108 yards. Jacquizz Rodgers has 4 carries for 6 yards and 1 touchdown.
Receiving: Julio Jones shows off yet again what he can bring to this team when he is healthy, making 6 receptions for 78 yards and 1 touchdown.
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