This is a must-win game for the Carolina Panthers in Week 8 if they want to continue to hang around in the NFC South. The bottom two teams in the division will meet in this one as the Panthers are set to take on the Atlanta Falcons.
The Panthers are coming off of a 27-24 loss to the New Orleans Saints. Carolina played from behind all game long. They fell behind early, but took a lead 17-14 in the second quarter. That lasted one possession, as the Saints followed up with a score to retake the lead.
Teddy Bridgewater is playing well this season and Matt Rhule is looking like a good head coach. Together, they have a Panthers’ team that was supposed to be bad playing competitively.
The Falcons are trending the other way. Atlanta finds a new way to lose a game every week. In Week 7, it was Todd Gurley’s inability to stay out of the end zone. He scored late and the Falcons took a 22-16 lead. Everyone knew what was going to happen next right?
Matthew Stafford led the Lions on a drive that ended in a T.J. Hockenson touchdown. After an unsportsmanlike penalty, Matt Prater nailed a 53-yard extra point to win the game.
When these two teams take the field this week, there are plenty of factors that will weigh in. Here are five to keep an eye on in this one.
5. Falcons’ Secondary
The Falcons need some area of their defense to step up in this one and it will have to be their secondary. The Panthers have two big-play receivers who are having productive seasons. If Carolina’s offense can get comfortable, this will be a long afternoon for the Falcons.
D.J. Moore has 31 catches for 567 yards and three touchdowns this season. The Panthers went out in the offseason and signed Robby Anderson. He is thriving under his collegiate head coach at Temple. Anderson has totaled 46 catches for 640 yards but just one touchdown.
They have a favorable matchup in this one. The Falcons allowed both Marvin Jones Jr. and Kenny Golladay to have big games last week. That is something they will have to clean up.
The Panthers have a chance to take control of this game early against a poor Falcons defense. If Atlanta wants to hang around, their defense will have to step up and make some stops.
Both the Falcons and Panthers are middle of the pack when it comes to turnovers. This is a huge factor in all NFL games, but there is a different feel to this one.
The Falcons have turned the ball over six times, with three of them being Matt Ryan interceptions. For Carolina, they have eight turnovers and five interceptions from Bridgewater. Turnovers can completely turn momentum in a game. It gives a defense life and, in this case, could keep the Falcons in the game.
It will be interesting to see how Atlanta performs in this one after yet another gut-wrenching loss.
Both teams will attempt to take care of the ball. If one team gets the upper hand in the turnover battle, that will be a huge factor in who wins.
3. Falcons Wide Receivers
The Falcons have some elite skill position players. That is one of the reasons why it is hard to believe they are only 1-6. Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley are on the outside while Todd Gurley patrols the backfield.
Jones missed the first matchup of the season with a hamstring injury. Ridley was able to get comfortable against Carolina with eight catches for 136 yards.
Both receivers have had their best games against the Panthers throughout their careers. In 15 career matchups, Jones has 1,390 yards against Carolina. The passing defense for Carolina has improved this season, but having Jones back on the field in this one will be huge for Atlanta.
The Panthers struggled to contain Ridley in their first matchup. With Jones back on the field, there is a chance that one of the Falcons’ receivers could have a huge game.
2. Third Down
Both the Panthers and Falcons are in the top-10 of the league in third down conversions. They put themselves in third-and-manageable situations and have the skill position players to make big plays at big times. Something will have to give in this one.
On the other side of the ball, the Panthers’ defense is 31st in opposing third down conversions and the Falcons are 13th. This clearly favors the Falcons. Carolina has had difficulty getting off the field and making big stops. The Falcons have the players to convert on third down and that is something that the Panthers will have to fix during this matchup.
It is important to get third down stops so your defense can get off the field. Both of these teams are offense first. That means the defenses will have to come up with some key stops.
1. Panthers’ Rushing Attack
The Panthers suffered a huge blow when Christian McCaffrey went down with a high-ankle sprain. Since then, Mike Davis has stepped in and been an effective dual-threat within the offense.
Over the past couple of games, Davis has taken a step back. He logged back-to-back 80-yard performances with 14 total catches in Weeks 4 and 5. Last week against the Saints, Davis finished with seven carries for 12 yards and five catches for 24 yards.
McCaffrey has officially come off IR and returned to practice. There is little belief that he will play in this one, especially on a short week, so Davis will have to get back to his production from a few weeks back.
The Panthers have a strong duo of wide receivers. If they can run the ball effectively, that would allow Bridgewater to use play-action and it would help keep the offense on the field.