The Falcons season comes down to this.
With a playoff spot on the line, the Atlanta Falcons will host the Carolina Panthers in hopes of securing their tenth win of the season and a playoff date next weekend as the NFC’s sixth seed. It’s been an up-and-down season to say the least, but none of the past frustrations or successes matter now. All that matters is a victory over Cam Newton and the Panthers.
1. Containing Cam Newton
When Cam Newton is healthy and not acting like a three year old, he is one of the most deadly quarterbacks in the league. Perhaps no team is familiar with this more than the Falcons. Newton always seems to save his best games for the Dirty Birds, so Atlanta will have to contain him to the best of their ability. This means trying to force him to stay in the pocket as much as possible as well as not allowing him to break free for his signature long runs.
2. Catch the ball
Any Falcons fan knows that the team has had a major issue this year with dropped passes. It came back to bite the Falcons again last week in New Orleans, as a dropped pass led to an interception from the Saints. Drew Brees then turned that interception into a New Orleans touchdown. The Falcons have way too much talent to be making some of the simple mistakes, like dropped passes, that they make. With their season on the line, it’s important now more than ever that they don’t shoot themselves in the foot.
3. Winning the turnover battle
Turnover differential has been a major issue for Atlanta this year. It’s actually very surprising with the low amount of turnovers they’ve forced that they’re still in the thick of things in the NFC playoff picture. In recent weeks, Devonta Freeman has been a little careless with the football and receivers have continued to tip passes that could be easy catches, both of which lead to turnovers. The Falcons also have been awful at forcing turnovers, as they have just five interceptions on the entire season (!). They’ll need to be careful with the football on offense and aggressive in forcing turnovers on defense if they want to clinch a playoff birth today.
Technically, the Falcons don’t necessarily have to win today in order to beat Carolina. If the Arizona Cardinals go on the road and beat Seattle, then Atlanta will be in the playoffs regardless of their result against the Panthers. However, Seattle is a tough environment in which to win, especially for a weaker team like Arizona, so the Falcons cannot expect to lay an egg against Carolina and still be playing next weekend.
Kickoff: 4:25 PM ET
Radio: 92.9 The Game
Nothing would surprise me in this game, but I think the Falcons will finally play with the sense of urgency they need and squeeze by the Panthers in a close one, securing a playoff birth.
PREDICTION: Falcons 27, Panthers 21