NFL Game of the Week: Carolina Panthers vs. Atlanta Falcons

In the final week of the NFL season, two NFC South teams with losing records clash in a winner-takes-all game to decide the division champion.

Rogelio Solis/AP
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) warms up before an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 21. In the Falcons' last seven games, Jones has caught 47 passes for 801 yards, despite sitting out one of those games with an injury.

As always, the final week of the NFL season is jam-packed with exciting games and complicated playoff scenarios. In the 2014 iteration, three games will decide division champions as the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers, Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons, and Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers match up.

While the NFC wildcard spots have been decided, four AFC teams have an outside chance of snatching the sixth seed, with San Diego leading the charge. Fascinating matchups abound, the most intriguing of all is the Panthers on the road in Atlanta to decide the NFC South and claim a home playoff game, with the loser missing out altogether.

Both the Falcons and the Panthers enter their Week 17 matchup with losing records, and the winner will be only the second team in the modern era to make the playoffs with a losing record, the first being the 7-9 2010 Seattle Seahawks.

At several points this season, both the Falcons and the Panthers had looked dead in the water. The Panthers had lost 6 straight games and were 3-8-1 before winning their last three. Now the team sits atop the division and would represent the South even with a tie. The Falcons had lost five in a row, and were 2-6, but have won four out of seven. According to FiveThirtyEight, the percentage chance of Atlanta making the postseason given their record was never more than 9% after Week 4, and with nine losses sits at 1%. They would go from 1% to 100% with a win.

If Atlanta hopes to represent the South, they will need their offense to overpower Carolina. Over their last seven games, Atlanta has scored 27 points per contest. In those games, quarterback Matt Ryan has cut down heavily on his interceptions, throwing four versus eight in his first eight. A big factor in Ryan’s success is star wide receiver Julio Jones, who has caught 100 passes for 1,535 yards and six touchdowns. Over their last seven, Jones has been otherworldly, hauling in 47 catches for 801 yards, even sitting out one of those games with an injury.

The Panthers will need a healthy and dynamic Cam Newton and a stout defense to outlast the Falcons and claim the South. Newton looked good in his first start back last week after a car accident, throwing for 201 yards and a touchdown while rushing 12 times for 63 yards and another score. A good sign for Panthers fans: Newton’s 12 carries were the second most he has had all season. Talking to reporters at nfl.com, Newton is locked in on the game and avoiding all the noise.

"Getting a win is the only thing that matters to me," Newton said. "The other fluff, that's not important to me. I just want to get the win."

More than getting a strong performance out of Newton, Carolina needs its defense to continue playing well. Over their last three games, Carolina has been especially stingy, allowing only 13 points per game on the strength of a passing defense that has allowed only 166 yards per game and a third-down conversion defense allowing only 33% of plays to finish in first downs.

In a "win and get in" game, anything and everything is on the table. In this specific matchup, a slight edge should go to Atlanta who will play at home in front of a frenzied crowd. Do not count out Cam Newton though, as he has the big-game pedigree to pull out a victory.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to NFL Game of the Week: Carolina Panthers vs. Atlanta Falcons
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Sports/2014/1228/NFL-Game-of-the-Week-Carolina-Panthers-vs.-Atlanta-Falcons
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe