Week 17 Tale of the Tape: Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons
- QuarterbackAfter a rough start to the season, Cam Newton has steadily picked up his performance and the Panthers are once again one of the better teams in the league. The Panthers have made the playoffs, and if Newton can avoid key mistakes in this game, they have an excellent chance to win this game. Newton is always a threat to make big plays with his legs.The Falcons are coming off a painful loss to the New Orleans Saints, and that defeat has put their playoff chances in jeopardy. However, Matt Ryan can take over any game and lighting up the scoreboard with a series of frequent strikes. The best way to slow down Ryan is to put a couple of big hits on him early in the game and that will make him hesitant before he cuts loose.
- OffenseThe Panthers have improved steadily as the season has progressed, and they are approaching their peak as the regular season comes to a close. Tight end Greg Olsen is healthy again and he is a game-changing player who is dangerous on third-down plays and in the red zone. Jonathan Stewart is a solid power runner, while rookie Christian McCaffrey is a versatile youngster who excels as a pass catcher.The Falcons are loaded with talent at the skill positions, and that’s why it’s hard to believe that the defending NFC champions are in such a shaky position. Devonta Freeman leads a crew of hard-charging running backs who can make big plays, while Julio Jones is probably the No. 2 receiver in the league behind Antonio Brown. Mohamed Sanu is an excellent secondary receiver.
- DefenseThe Panthers have one of the strongest and most consistent defensive teams, and there aren’t many players in the league who are more effective than linebacker Luke Kuechly. He has a sensational understanding of how opponents are going to attack, and he combines that with excellent athleticism. Throw in Thomas Davis, Kurt Coleman and Mario Addison, and the Panthers can dominate here.The Falcons perform very well on defense, and if they were going to have any problems, most would have anticipated that they would come on this side of the ball. However, the Falcons have a lot of speed and can suppress many of the most skilled offensive players. The presence of Grady Jarrett and Dontari Poe give them strength against the interior run.
- Special TeamsAfter years of mediocre or poor play on special teams, the Panthers have finally gotten it together in this area and will have an advantage over most opponents. Kaelin Clay has taken back one punt for a score and he has moves to make defenders miss, as does McCaffrey.The Falcons have great confidence in their kicking game with Matt Bryant and Matt Bosher, and both are dependable when the game is on the line. The Falcons do a decent job in punt and kickoff coverage, but Andre Roberts is not a major threat in the return game.
This game should be close and could come down to the final possession, and that could favor the Panthers. Newton is difficult to stop when the game is on the line.