Five fearless predictions for Saturday’s Carolina Panthers game against Atlanta:
1. Panthers will hold Julio Jones under 150 yards
OK, so that’s not exactly “limiting” the NFL’s receiving leader. But considering Jones went for 300 yards on 12 catches in the first meeting, cutting that total in half would be an accomplishment for a Panthers secondary that has improved since the Week 4 beatdown. Rookie cornerbacks James Bradberry and Daryl Worley have done a nice job keeping receivers in front of them in recent weeks. That trend will continue against Jones.
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2. Cam Newton and Matt Ryan both will roll 300s
As bad as the Panthers’ secondary was in Atlanta, the Falcons’ wasn’t much better. Newton and backup Derek Anderson, who replaced Newton after he left with a concussion, combined to complete 31 of 48 passes for 337 yards and three touchdowns. Newton, who threw for 300 yards Monday at Washington, will have another 300-yard game five days later. So will Ryan, although the MVP candidate won’t approach the ridiculous numbers (28 of 37 passing for 503 yards and four touchdowns) he put up in Week 4.
3. Vic Beasley and Kawann Short will have strip-sacks
Beasley, the outside linebacker and former Clemson standout, leads the NFL with 14.5 sacks and six forced fumbles. Beasley had a sack-fumble against Newton in the final minute last December to seal a 20-13 victory that ruined the Panthers’ perfect season. It wont be as dramatic Saturday, but Beasley will add to his totals. Meanwhile, Short had one of his five sacks this season in the earlier matchup with Atlanta. Short, who will play defensive end and tackle, will create a turnover with a hit on Ryan.
4. Kurt Coleman breaks out Thieves Ave. sign
The Panthers put away their Thieves Ave. sign, which became the secondary’s mantra during their Super Bowl season. That group led the league in interceptions and turnover margin. But this incarnation is improving. Carolina has forced eight takeaways the past two weeks in victories over San Diego and Washington, with Coleman intercepting a pass each game. Coleman, overlooked this week for the Pro Bowl, will make it three weeks in a row with a fourth-quarter interception of Ryan. Coleman will celebrate by getting the sign down from Tre Boston’s locker afterward.
5. Panthers’ defense will bend, but not break
This feels pretty fearless, especially having watched what happened at the Georgia Dome on Oct. 2. But the Panthers are playing loose and as well as they have all season. The Falcons are an offensive juggernaut and can tie an NFL single-season record Saturday with their sixth 40-point game. But the Panthers’ defense – even without Luke Kuechly – will play like it has something to prove. Coleman’s pick will set up a game-winning field goal by Graham Gano, and the Falcons will have to wait a week before clinching the NFC South. Panthers 27, Falcons 24.
Falcons at Panthers
Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte
Saturday, 1 p.m.
FOX (Thom Brennaman, Charles Davis, Peter Schrager)