Five fearless predictions for Sunday’s Carolina Panthers game against Atlanta:
1. Panthers’ streak of not allowing a 100-yard receiver ends.
The Panthers and Vikings are the only teams this season that have not allowed either a 100-yard rusher or receiver. Half of that streak for Carolina will end this week when Julio Jones tops the century mark for the second time this season. Jones won’t approach the 300-yard game he had last season vs. the Panthers, but he’ll create enough space between himself and CB James Bradberry to reach 100.
2. Panthers’ deep-ball woes will continue.
When they traded wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin to Buffalo this week, the Panthers brass said it wanted to get more speed on the field. That means more opportunities for Curtis Samuel and Kaelin Clay. But the Falcons secondary hasn’t been giving up much down the field. Quarterbacks have completed only 17 passes of 20 yards or longer vs. Atlanta, tied for third-fewest in the league.
3. Prepare for several long scoring drives.
The Falcons and Panthers are among the league leaders in methodically marching down the field, taking time off the clock and coming away with points. The Falcons have scored on 12 of 17 drives that have lasted 10 plays or more, tied for fourth-most in the NFL. Carolina is just behind them, with 11 scores on 15 drives of 10 plays or more. With both teams trying to establish the run, settle in and look for this trend to continue.
4. Cam Newton will have time to throw.
Despite the interior being banged up, the Panthers offensive line did not allow Newton to get sacked – or even hit – at Tampa Bay. Center Ryan Kalil is out again, but right guard Trai Turner (sprained knee) will play and try to keep DTs Donatari Poe and Grady Jarrett from penetrating. Newton again will get good protection. And though it might not result in long completions, Christian McCaffrey will have a lot of touches in the pass game.
5. Devin Funchess will have a big red-zone catch.
It’s Funchess’ time to shine with Benjamin no longer around. Funchess has been quiet since a couple of big games vs. New England and Detroit. But he’ll reemerge with a touchdown catch in the red zone, giving the Panthers a lead. But it won’t be enough as Matt Ryan will rally the Falcons’ offense and direct the 27th fourth-quarter comeback of his career. Falcons 20, Panthers 17.
Falcons at Panthers
Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte
Sunday, 1 p.m.
FOX (Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews)