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Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan picking ‘rival’ Carolina over Broncos

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan stands in the pocket as the Carolina Panthers defense rushes during second quarter action at the Georgia Dome on Sunday, December 27, 2015 in Atlanta, GA. The Falcons defeated the Panthers 20-13.
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan stands in the pocket as the Carolina Panthers defense rushes during second quarter action at the Georgia Dome on Sunday, December 27, 2015 in Atlanta, GA. The Falcons defeated the Panthers 20-13. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Atlanta Falcon quarterback Matt Ryan, infamous for once yelling at the Panthers to get off his field in Atlanta, is picking Carolina to win the Super Bowl. Atlanta, of course, is perhaps the Panthers’ biggest NFC South conference rival.

Surprise.

“It’s definitely tough to pick somebody in the division,” Ryan said on ESPN’s “First Take” show Wednesday morning, “but I have gone up against them twice this year, and they’re about as complete a football team as I’ve played against in my career. I think they’re a team that’s tough to beat.”

Carolina blew out Atlanta at home 38-0 Dec. 13. But in the rematch, Dec. 27 in Atlanta, the Falcons were able to end Carolina’s 18-game regular-season win streak. Atlanta won at home 20-13, mainly by sticking with their run game and converting 10-of-15 third down chances against the Panthers defense.

Ryan thinks a similar formula will help Denver pull off an upset Sunday.

“The first time we played them, we got behind so early and they’ve been able to do that all year,” Ryan said. “They’ve been able to start as fast as anybody in the league. The second time we played them, we were able to stay in that ballgame and stay balanced on offense. When you go against that defense and you become one-dimensional, you have no chance. But if you’re able to stay balanced and run the ball and match play-action passing with the run game, their linebackers are so good at getting downhill and defending the run that you can make some yards behind them with the play-action pass.

“That’s what we did well the second time we played them, and you’ve got to make some explosive plays down the field. We had a long touchdown to Julio (Jones) that kind of changed the momentum in that (second) game. That’s the recipe for success.”

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