And now for something entirely different.
If Josh Norman and Julio Jones trash-talk each other much on Sunday or draw a single personal-foul penalty between them, I will be very surprised.
Jones is a different sort of player than Odell Beckham Jr. in terms of the way he carries himself. Jones is quiet. He’s cool. He lets his play – which is fabulous – do almost all of the talking.
Norman talks about Jones in reverential tones. The two aren’t exactly friends. But there is a mutual respect factor there that was never apparent last week in the vicious personal duel that ended up with Beckham being suspended without pay (that will cost OBJ a little over $52,000) for the New York Giants’ next game and Norman being fined $26,000 but not suspended.
Also, Norman has to be careful. He came across as the injured party last Sunday, and if anything his national profile – and his stock – probably rose higher despite the fact he gave up a critical TD pass to Beckham in the final two minutes.
But if Norman somehow got into a highlight-reel confrontation with Jones, too, then suddenly he’s becoming one of those players who just wants to fight everybody. And those are the sorts of guys that teams think twice about giving $70 million once they become unrestricted free agents, which Norman does after this season.
Norman will be well-served throughout the rest of the regular season and the playoffs to avoid confrontation.
Be himself? Sure. He can talk as much as he wants in the pregame. He can entertain people on and off the field. But no confrontations and no personal-foul penalties, especially not Sunday against a player as well-respected as Jones.
▪ Atlanta’s only real chance in this game is to win the turnover battle, because the Panthers simply have more talent. Carolina is No. 1 in the NFL at plus-19 in turnover margin; Atlanta is tied for 25th at minus-6.
▪ I am guessing Georgian Charles Johnson will get every possible chance to log a sack Sunday. Johnson offered a rare note of Panthers discordance Dec. 13 when he took to Twitter to complain about his lack of playing time in the 38-0 victory in two now-deleted tweets. The Panthers will want to look out for one of their captains in this one if all things are equal.
▪ Prediction time. I don’t foresee another Carolina shutout, but the Panthers would really need to mess up not to get to 15-0 against a Falcons team that is 2-7 over its past nine games. My pick: Carolina 34, Atlanta 13.
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