There is sometimes a big difference in sports in the games you should win and the games you actually win.
The Panthers hope that difference doesn’t bite them Sunday against Atlanta in a game they definitely should win – but a game that is dangerous.
The Falcons are 2-5 and seem to have lost their mojo, as well as star wide receiver Julio Jones. They are a desperate team with a quarterback (Matt Ryan) who still knows how to beat the Panthers, having gone 7-3 against them in his career.
Carolina (4-3) has won four of its past five and enters November with a winning record for the first time since 2008. Atlanta has lost four of its past five.
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This game should be easier than the next two for Carolina – at San Francisco and home against New England. But if the Panthers mess this one up at home, it’s a major black mark on a season that has so much promise.
• The Panthers should have some confidence going in given that they drilled Atlanta 30-20 in the teams’ last meeting in December in Charlotte. That was the game where Cam Newton scored on a 72-yard touchdown run and somersaulted into the end zone – still one of the best plays in Carolina history.
• Watch out for Atlanta receiver Harry Douglas. Douglas has been the go-to guy by default the past two weeks for Ryan given that Jones is out and Roddy White has also been hurt, and he’s got enough speed to hurt the Panthers if they aren’t careful.
• If you want one stat on why Newton has been better this season, check out his quarterback rating on third downs. He’s at a startling 122.7, highest in the league on the NFL’s most critical down.
• Expect the Panthers to pound the ball at Atlanta Sunday, as the Falcons have had trouble stopping the run all season. Assuming Jonathan Stewart plays, we will probably see a little less of Mike Tolbert.
• I’ve picked the Panthers’ outcome correctly the past five weeks in a row. To go for the six-pack, I will say Carolina beats Atlanta 24-13.