Remember last Summer when the experts universally had the Carolina Panthers winning the NFC South and my Atlanta Falcons hoping to squeeze into a Wild Card spot? Actually, few even had us doing that well! The predictions were us doing as badly as 3-13. The Panthers, meanwhile were again Super Bowl contenders. Things have played out a tad differently.
After a disappointing home opener, we rebounded in a big way and are now 9-5 while Carolina’s best case scenario is 8-8. They’re basically out of the playoffs but still have to play us again.
It’s tempting to think of this as a mismatch. Our offense is of course elite while our defense, while a work in process, has stepped up over the last six games. Meanwhile Carolina’s secondary is a mess and their offensive line is depleted. In theory, this would be an easy win. But it’s not.
The Panthers are now in spoiler mode. Their playoff chances are dead, but they can theoretically cost us a NFC South title by beating us if the Buccaneers win out. In fact, we could conceivably be out of the playoffs altogether if the Saints also beat us. That’s what Carolina is playing for: to ruin our season. They don’t have much of a season to call their own, so they seek to take us down with them. Not to mention the crazy scenarios they’ve no doubt ran through their heads that give them the last seed in the NFC.
Sound familiar? It should. If you’ll recall, Carolina took their 14-0 undefeated season into the Georgia Dome and left with a loss. Because we were out of it. Our goal was to ensure that they didn’t go undefeated. That is only further motivation for Cam Newton and company.
The key to avoiding this and clinching a playoff spot is to protect Matt Ryan and put pressure on Cam Newton. The former is the more difficult task, for they have been getting a lot of sacks. Still, with Julio Jones back and Taylor Gabriel having risen up since our last meeting with the cats, Ryan shouldn’t need too much time to throw.
I think we win, but it won’t be the blowout most think. RISE UP!!!