By Matthew Asher
After a 17-14 win in Charlotte over the Saints, the Panthers now have a firm grasp on the NFC South crown, but still need to beat Atlanta in Week 17 in order to clinch the title and a home-field game in the playoffs.
The last time Atlanta and Carolina played, the Panthers simply destroyed the Falcons 34-10 and effectively killed any chance Atlanta had of sneaking into the playoffs. Again, Atlanta is now simply playing the role of a spoiler. The question becomes which team will they spoil the season for: the Carolina Panthers or the New Orleans Saints?
Panthers on Offense
Statistically speaking, Carolina’s offense is a basic run-of-the-mill one. The 23 points scored each game are 19th in the league and the best part of Carolina offense, the run game, averages 126.1 yards a game, the 11th best. As far as total yards and passing yards are concerned, Carolina isn’t anything special as both are in the bottom 10 of the league.
Anytime you talk about Carolina’s offense, you have to talk about the Atlanta-native quarterback Cam Newton. While Cam may not be setting any records this season, he’s had a good season. Newton has completed about 62 percent of his pass attempts for 3,230 yards, 22 touchdowns and 12 interception for a quarterback rating of 89.2.
Newton of course is a dual-threat quarterback, so he’s done a decent job of running the ball as well. Combined with starting running back DeAngelo Williams, the two Panthers have combined for 290 rushing attempts 1,323 yards and nine of Carolina’s 14 touchdowns on the ground.
The two receivers Atlanta needs to pay attention to are tight end Greg Olsen and wide receiver Steve Smith. Both Olsen and Smith have very similar stats with the two of them combining for 131 receptions, 1,519 yards and nine receiving touchdowns.
Panthers on Defense
With such an average offense, Carolina’s defense has had to step up to help their team get this 11-4 record. Carolina ranks in the top 10 in all four major categories, including the stingiest scoring defense (14.7 points a game allowed) and the second stingiest defense regarding total yards and rushing yards. Their passing defense is slightly behind the other rankings, at 7th best.
The defensive player to look out for is second-year middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. Against New Orleans, he recorded 24 total tackles (that is NOT a typo) and leads the team with 146 through 15 games.
So as the 2013 NFL season comes to a close for the Atlanta Falcons, the big question is simply how Atlanta will play this game. Will they try to beat their division rival or look to pick up a higher draft pick next season? Given how close they were to upsetting San Francisco, it seems like they don’t want to intentionally tank. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 pm EST.
For more Falcons news and updates, visit Falcons Central.
Matthew Asher is a freelance journalist. From an early age, sports have played a major role in his life. He graduated from Emory University with a B.A. in Journalism. After college he spent 2 years working with CNN Sports and still occasionally writes sports articles for several publications both in the United States and Canada. His work can be found on Examiner.com.