If there were a definition of a "must-win game" for the Atlanta Falcons, this would be that week. I feel like the last few weeks have been "must wins.." Also, the fact that Atlanta's playoff hopes are riding on a win against the 1-12 Panthers says a lot about how the Falcons season has gone. After dropping last week's game against the Buccaneers, Atlanta is now second in the NFC South due to the tiebreaker rules for conferences. With the three-way tie for the south between the Bucs, Falcons, and Saints, the Falcons will have to hope for a bit of a downfall from the Bucs, the good news is the Falcons will play the Saints for the last game of the season. Anyway, there's much riding on this NFC South matchup, so let's get into it.
Atlanta took on the Panthers of Carolina in Week 1, destroying them 24-10. It's been downhill ever since that for Carolina. Frank Reich was fired after only coaching in 11 games, Bryce Young hasn't been the number one overall pick everyone hoped he'd be, and well, the Panthers have only won a single game this year. But good news for Panthers fans- Carolina has the fourth-ranked defense in terms of yards and has the third-best passing defense in the league (not good news for Falcons' fans though). Other than that, the Panthers have the 31st-ranked defense in points and the 22nd-run defense. Now that's good news, hopefully, Arthur Smith releases the three-headed monster of Robinson, Allgeier, and Patterson to run over the Panthers' defense.
On the other side of the ball, the Panthers have the 30th-ranked offense in terms of yards and points (31st in rushing, 21st in passing) A lot of talks around the Panthers' offense have been about not having a capable WR1 for Bryce Young. Adam Theilen has been their number-one receiver (more on him below) but hasn't produced the way Carolina has wanted him to, Carolina also has little to no running game, as they have the second-worst rushing attack, Chubba Hubbard and Miles Sanders take the majority of the carries.
Date: December 12th, 2023
Start Time: 11amPT/1pmET
Location: Charlotte, North Carolina
Stadium: Bank of America Stadium
TV Info: FOX
Key Players- Offense
Falcons Running Backs
As previously mentioned, Carolina has the 22nd-ranked run defense in the NFL. I fully suspect Bijan Robinson, Tyler Allgeier, and Cordarelle Patterson to "eat" on Sunday. In Week 1, it was just Allgeier and Robinson who saw carries, both combing for 130 yards and Allgeier running for two touchdowns. If I were a betting man (I am...sort of), I say Atlanta can run over 200 yards, remembering Atlanta still has the sixth-best rushing attack in the NFL.
Adam Theilen- Panthers WR
Carolina's "No. 1" receiver has posted 85 receptions (tied for ninth in the NFL), 827 yards, and four touchdowns on the year. He's been Young's favorite target of the year as well, Thielen only posted 12 yards on a pair of catches in Week 1 against Atlanta.
Key Players- Defense
Kaden Elliss- Falcons LB
I haven't talked much about Elliss this season, but he has been a very important piece in the Falcons defense. Eliss is second on the team in total tackles at 95 (career high), two sacks, and two pass deflections. Elliss has been all over the place for the Falcons, from stuffing runs to picking up coverage assignments, exactly what the Falcons need
Frankie Luvu- Panthers LB
Luvu is a big reason the Panthers' defense is ranked fourth in defense this season. Luvu leads the Panthers in tackles at 94 and also, has 4.5 sacks on the season. The six-year veteran had five total tackles and a half sack against the Falcons in Week 1.
Points Spread: ATL -3 (-105) | CAR +3 (-115)
Moneyline: ATL (-162) | CAR (+136)
Over/Under: O 33.5 (-104) | U 33.5 (-118)
Lines via FanDuel as of Saturday, December 16th
It's bound to be another injury-impacted game for Atlanta, Kentavius Street has been placed on IR, David Onyemata is ruled OUT, YoungHoe Koo is questionable due to illness, and Kaleb McGary is also ruled OUT. That all came out Saturday with more injury information to come out tomorrow (Sunday). Atlanta needs all hang on deck, especially on the pass rush end of things. Atlanta also needs to keep every piece of their offensive line intact as well, arguably the MVP position(s) of the Falcons offense.
It'll also be another "statement" game from Desmond Ridder. Ridder was given the "keys" to the Falcons' offense for the rest of the season after the bye week. Ridder has thrown for 636 yards, three touchdowns, and three interceptions in the three games since the bye. The issue with Ridder has always been the turnovers, and that has continued in the second half. Ridder must limit the turnover, so the Falcons' offense can flourish. However, if Ridder does lead the Falcons to a playoff berth, I would expect nothing less for Ridder to be back next year, but that is a song for another time.
There should be no reason that Atlanta can't blow Carolina out of the water on Sunday. This is nothing against the Panthers, but the Falcons need to wipe the floor with them and walk away with some confidence to carry through the rest of the season. Atlanta's running game will also have to be successful on Sunday, again hopefully going over 200 total rushing yards. The Dirty Birds defense, led by future Pro Bowl safety Jessie Bates, will have to show Bryce Young no mercy on Sunday. With that, I like Atlanta with a blowout win. They were able to win 14 when both teams met last, no excuse they can't do it again.
Prediction: ATL: 28, CAR: 13 (I predicted the score right in Week 1, let's go 2/2)
(A little more love to Bates)
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