Week 4: Five bold predictions for Panthers at Falcons
Five fearless predictions for Sunday’s Carolina Panthers game at Atlanta:
1. Cam will make good on his promise to Benjamin.
In case you missed it, wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin had as many catches as you did last week vs. Minnesota. Mike Shula and Cam Newton say that can’t happen again. I don’t know that Benjamin will get the 13 targets he did in his first meeting with Atlanta two years ago, but he’ll get a bunch. And one will result in a big play against Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant.
2. O-line will put Cam in the QB protection program.
Getting the ball to Benjamin in the vertical game will take time, something Newton didn’t have against the Vikings. Now the Panthers will have to protect Newton without left tackle Michael Oher, who is in the concussion protocol and won’t play. Shifting right Mike Remmers to the left side and giving Daryl Williams’ his first start in Remmers’ place would be more problematic vs. a defense like the Vikings’ or Broncos’. But the Falcons – even with the addition of Dwight Freeney in August – are averaging just one sack a game.
3. Matt Ryan will have time to throw.
We keep hearing about how opposing quarterbacks have been getting the ball out quickly to beat the Panthers’ pass rush. But the front four has not pushed the pocket consistently and has yet to make a quarterback uncomfortable. Ryan is doing more rollouts under offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, but he’ll also sit in the pocket and go through his reads. If that happens Sunday – and I think it will – then ...
4. Julio Jones will bounce back in a big way.
Like Benjamin, the Falcons’ gifted wideout also was a non-factor in a Monday night victory at New Orleans. Jones had just one catch (for 16 yards) in seven targets against the Saints, who used two defenders vs. him most of the game. Rookie James Bradberry will line up against Jones a lot, but the Panthers’ zone scheme means it will take a group effort to slow him down.
5. Panthers’ D will come up with a couple of key takeaways.
The Falcons have feasted on the league’s two worst defenses – Oakland and New Orleans – the past two weeks. But they face an adult defense Sunday. Despite the pass-rush issues, the Panthers still have one of the league’s best linebacking tandems in Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, who match up well against the Falcons’ backfield duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. The Panthers didn’t force a turnover against the Vikings. They will force a couple on Sunday, and might even mix in a defensive score. Panthers 34, Falcons 27.
Panthers at Falcons
Georgia Dome, Atlanta
Sunday, 1 p.m.