Five fearless predictions for Sunday’s Carolina Panthers game at Atlanta:
1. James Bradberry contains Julio Jones
Bradberry, the Panthers’ third-year cornerback, won’t see all of the snaps against premier Falcons receiver Jones, but he’ll get the majority.
After Jones’ historic 300-yard game against Carolina in 2016 (during which Bradberry left with a toe injury in the first quarter), Jones was held to four catches for 60 yards in the teams’ second matchup of that season. In the Panthers’ two games against Atlanta in 2017, Jones had six catches for 118 yards and five catches for 80 yards, respectively.
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Bradberry has developed a lot since then, and Carolina overall seems to have a better secondary. This Sunday, Jones will be held to 60 yards and a touchdown. Limiting his yards after the catch will be a major focus point.
2. More deep strikes from Cam Newton
The Carolina Panthers quarterback, known for his strong arm and deep ball, did not throw long much last week against the Dallas Cowboys. Falcons coach Dan Quinn said he expects to see Newton unfurl a few more deep passes on Sunday.
But because Carolina’s offensive line is so depleted, Newton and offensive coordinator Norv Turner could want to get the ball out of Newton’s hand quickly and feature more checkdowns and underneath options.
3. Left tackle/Right tackle
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera hinted at Sunday’s starting offensive line on Thursday, just two days after the team placed starting right tackle Daryl Williams on injured reserve, where he joined starting left tackle Matt Kalil.
Chris Clark, the team’s newly signed tackle, is a left-handed player, Rivera said. And, he has his most recent experience on the left side.
If Clark started at left tackle, that would mean second-year tackle Taylor Moton would swing back to the right.
On the interior, Rivera sounded bullish on keeping Greg Van Roten at left guard, and putting veteran Amini Silatolu on the right.
4. Poe, po’ Falcons
Defensive tackle Dontari Poe will hassle his old Atlanta teammates early and often.
Poe will be crucial to eating space, giving the Panthers’ pass rush more room to work against Matt Ryan, who is a much less mobile quarterback than the player they faced last week. He will also be key in eliminating cutback space for Atlanta’s dynamic running backs, and clogging gaps should they try to run downhill.
5. An ugly one
With the Falcons’ red zone issues (Carolina has them, too), and major injuries on both sides, this game could be ugly.
But the Panthers do enough defensively to squeeze out a 21-16 victory.
Panthers at Falcons
Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Ga.
Sunday, 1 p.m.