By Shawn Lealos
The Atlanta Falcons moved one step closer to the NFC South crown last week when they beat the San Francisco 49ers and watched the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lose to the Dallas Cowboys. All the Falcons need to do now is win one more game to clinch their division, and they are still in position for a possible first-round playoff bye. However, they need to finish strong and their next opponent is no pushover. Here is a look at the Carolina Panthers team profile heading into the late season game.
Carolina Panthers Season Record
The Carolina Panthers are in last place in the NFC South one season after making it to the Super Bowl. Sitting at 6-8, they only have a chance to move up slightly, but are already out of playoff contention. However, the Panthers are on a two-game winning streak, beating the San Diego Chargers and Washington Redskins soundly, and are playing their best football of the season right now.
Carolina Panthers On Offense
Cam Newton is still the leader on this offense, even though he is struggling this season. Newton has thrown for 3,074 yards on 53.8 percent passing. He has 17 touchdowns but has also thrown nine interceptions this season. His rushing yards are still there, with 317 yards on the ground and five more touchdowns, but this is not the Cam Newton that led the Panthers to the Super Bowl last season.
Jonathan Stewart never became the superstar running back some thought he would be when the Panthers made him their first round pick in 2008, but he is playing decent this season, with 709 yards and eight touchdowns. However, he is only averaging 3.8 yards on the ground.
Tight end Greg Olsen is still the top target in the passing game, with 111 targets and 71 receptions for 992 yards. In the Falcons game, Olsen will have his third straight 1,000-yard receiving season in a row. Kelvin Benjamin, Ted Ginn Jr., and Devin Funchess split the rest of the offensive receptions and combined for a total 13 touchdowns between the three of them.
Carolina Panthers On Defense
The Carolina Panthers were a Super Bowl caliber team because of their defense, but the loss of Josh Norman to free agency and the loss of Luke Kuechly to injury for a number of games this season has hurt them. Kuechly is the star of this defense, and he likely won’t play the last two games of the season following concussion issues. However, the Panthers have played strong the last two games. They limited Washington to 15 points and only 29 rushing yards while keeping the Chargers to 16 points and 58 rushing yards. They forced eight turnovers in the two games and have 25 takeaways on the season.
Carolina Panthers Players To Watch
Cam Newton – The one player that can heat up and beat any team for Carolina is Cam Newton. The quarterback can score with his feet and arm and is a player that can give this Atlanta Falcons defense problems.
Greg Olsen – The main target on this offense is Greg Olsen. Through the first 13 games this season, the Falcons gave up seven touchdowns to opposing tight ends and a high 11.28 yards per reception. Olsen can hurt this defense.
The Atlanta Falcons looked like they would coast through the final four games of the season. They won the first two of the four in blowouts, but the game with Carolina won’t be an easy victory. The Panthers defense is playing strong right now, and if Cam Newton can avoid mistakes, they can win here. This is a game that the Atlanta Falcons should win, but this won’t be an easy one.