NFL Week 4 Preview: Panthers vs. Falcons
The Panthers come into Week 4 with a 1-2 record and if they fall to 1-3, all of Panthers Nation will be more than ready to press the panic button. However, fans should remember that Carolina started off 1-3 during the 2013 season. They finished that year with a 12-4 record and won the first of three consecutive division titles. Several penalties and a horrible performance by the offensive line led to Carolina’s second defeat of the season against a stout Minnesota Vikings defense. Fortunately for the Panthers, the Atlanta Falcons and their suspect defense is next on the schedule. A road game against a division rival is always tough and Sunday won’t be any different for the defending NFC champs.
Can the Falcons offense keep it up?
Julio Jones caught one pass on Monday night and the Falcons still scored 28 points in the first half. New Orleans defense is arguably the worst in the NFL but that is still an impressive performance by Atlanta since much of their offense has been centered around Julio in the past. This season the Falcons have been led by running back duo Devonte Freeman and Tevin Coleman. They have a combined 617 yards and 5 touchdowns through 3 games. 242 of those yards have come from receptions, proving the duo can be just as dangerous catching the ball as they are running the ball. The Panthers defense against the run has been strong through 3 games and it’s far better than the Saints so the duo will be tested on Sunday. Due to Julio Jones slow start this season Matt Ryan has been forced to spread the ball around and surprisingly he’s been successful. The Panthers secondary has had it struggles, but it has mostly held its own so far this season despite its inexperience so Matt Ryan will need another strong week from all of his weapons as a collective if they want to take another step toward a division title on Sunday.
Carolina’s Inconsistency on Offense
The Falcons defense is as friendly as it gets in the NFL and they may be just what the Panthers need to turn their season around. Through three games Carolina has 8 turnovers and the offensive line has given up 12 sacks. Cam Newton has already thrown 5 INTs and he has been hit more than any other quarterback in the league. The Falcons pass rush has only 3 sacks on the season and the secondary is giving up over 300 yards a game through the air. Based on those numbers, Cam should be able to find a rhythm on Sunday. The Panthers clearly miss Jonathan Stewart in the running game but the Falcons come into Sunday allowing 120 yards a game on the ground so Fozzy Whitaker and Cam Artis-Payne should have a better performance than their last outing during Week 3. Kelvin Benjamin was held to 0 catches during Week 3, so expect Cam Newton to give him plenty of chances to bounce back on Sunday. Much of Drew Brees 376 passing yards against the Falcons on Monday night were to the tight end so Greg Olsen should be primed for a big day on Sunday as well. If Michael Oher and the rest of the Carolina O-line can provide better protection, Carolina’s offense should look more like the team we saw in Week 2 against the 49ers.
The Falcons and Panthers always have close games and Sunday shouldn’t be any different. Atlanta gave the Panthers their only L during the 2015 season so Sunday is more than just another game for Carolina. Although it’s early in the season, this game may decide who wins the division title so I’m picking Carolina based on my preseason prediction that they would win the NFC South.
Final Score: Panthers 34-31