By Ted Fleming
Atlanta Falcons by the numbers
2012 Record: 11-1
Record vs. Panthers: 23-12
Streak vs. Carolina: W5
Last Meeting: Falcons 30, Panthers 28 (9/30/12)
Next Game: Sunday at Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte (73,504)
It has not been much of a rivalry. Since their very first game, the Falcons have won nearly two-thirds of them and are currently on a five game roll, but this Sunday the intensity will be amped up a bit this weekend when the Panthers host their divisional foe.
Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan isn’t one of those controversial NFL players but he finds himself in the middle of one with his Carolina counterparts when he was overheard to say something along the lines of “Get the frack off our field,” (that’s the cleaned up version) after Matt Bryant booted the game winning field goal in the Falcons’ 30-28 win at the Georgia Dome back in September.
A few Panthers’ players thought Ryan disrespected them and they would take some pleasure in beating them if the end result is keeping them from locking up the home field throughout the playoffs. The Falcons are 11-1 and unless there is a total collapse they have just about locked up a first round bye and have a nice cushion over the 49ers and Packers for the home field so the Panthers only real objective, at 3-9, would be setting the tone for next year and beyond.
Here are a couple of things to watch for on Sunday:
1. Is it wise to go after Matt Ryan? Sure he made a late game quip but unless the Panthers play under control they will be picked apart by the veteran quarterback. Ryan has been sacked nearly twice a game so he can be had although he still leads an offense that is seventh in points, ninth in total yards and fourth in passing. That’s a problem for the defense.
Brady Quinn will never be compared to Ryan and he was still 19/23 for 201 yards and a pair of TDs in the Chiefs emotional win a week ago. Not known for a lot of offense, Kansas City racked up 355 yards, 158 on the ground with Jamal Charles leading the way with 127. Atlanta has a formidable back in Michael Turner even though he is having an off year and could come up short of the 1,000 yard mark for the first time since 2009 when he played just 11 games. EDGE: Falcons
2. Panthers ‘O’ against the Falcons ‘D’: Cam Newton has been on a roll, well at least individually. The Panthers have been creeping up the ladder in passing yards, they are now 16th, and since the bye he has completed 57% of his passes and has thrown a touchdown in all but one. With only five interceptions over that span, Newton has gone three straight without a pick. The Falcons are in middle of the pack against the pass, however, they have given up 33 touchdowns, 22 through the air.
On the ground, Carolina had one of their better days against the Chiefs and they will have to do better if they have a chance to beat Atlanta. They have gone 23 straight without a 100 yard rusher and despite the Falcons being 20th against the rush, DeAngelo Williams will be hard pressed to snap that streak. Edge: Falcons
Prediction: Falcons 31, Panthers 17
Falcons: Secondary coach Tim Lewis coached with the Panthers from 2007-08.
Panthers: Running backs coach John Settle played for the Falcons from 1987-90.
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Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.