Six Points: Panthers vs. Falcons

Josh Norman (left) and Julio Jones (right) should make for another stellar matchup to watch for this Sunday. Can Jones lead the Falcons to the upset over the undefeated Panthers?

The Carolina Panthers (14-0) will look to move one game closer to an undefeated season, while also attempting to lock up home field advantage in Week 16. The team standing in their way? The Atlanta Falcons (7-7) and dynamic playmakers such as Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman. These two teams met just two weeks ago, and it was a dominating performance by the Panthers, to the tune of 38-0. Can Atlanta bounce back and even the score by ruining Carolina’s perfect year?

As we slowly move past the Josh Norman/Odell Beckham Jr. feud that was the talk of the NFL in Week 15, we’re set up for quite a game between these two NFC South rivals. While Atlanta will be looking for some revenge against the Panthers, they at least got back to trending in the right direction, as they beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 23-17 last Sunday. That win ended a six-game losing streak for the once 6-1 Falcons.

For the Panthers, it was a near-disaster against the New York Giants last week, as they were up 35-7 at one point, but it took a last-second field goal to hold on and win 38-35. Can Carolina get refocused and get back to their dominating ways, or will the Falcons be able to pull off a stunner in front of their home fans?

Here are three keys to the game for both the Panthers and the Falcons.

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1. Utilize the running backs on the ground and through the air

Whether the Panthers decide to sit Jonathan Stewart for a second week or not, Carolina should look to get the ball into the hands of their running backs against Atlanta. Rookie Cameron Artis-Payne showed flashes during Week 15, averaging 4.2 yards per carry on 14 attempts. To this point in 2015, the Falcons have allowed 1,256 rushing yards and 15 rushing touchdowns, as well as 96 receptions for 748 yards and three receiving scores to opposing running backs. It should be a big day for whoever is in the backfield for Carolina.

2. Hit Ted Ginn deep

When the Panthers rolled over the Falcons just a few weeks ago, Ginn was targeted just three times. The end result? Two catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns. It’s obvious that Atlanta is going to struggle defending Ginn’s speed, so Carolina should look to use it to their advantage in any way possible. The Falcons have actually been good against opposing wide receivers this year, but if Ginn’s last outing against them was any indication, it could be a long day.

3. Keep up the pressure on Matt Ryan

Looking back at that 38-0 victory in their first matchup, one thing that jumps out is the massive amount of pressure that both Ryan and Sean Renfree felt in that game. Between the two, Carolina tallied five sacks, and also tacked on two interceptions as well. If the Panthers are able to get a similar level of pressure in Ryan’s face, it could be a long day for Atlanta’s offense.

1. Get the ball to Devonta Freeman and Julio Jones

No matter what it takes, if the Falcons want to knock off the undefeated Panthers, they need to utilize both Freeman and Jones. Carolina is going to do everything in their power to lock these two down, specifically Jones, but Atlanta may need to get creative in how they attempt to get them the ball. The more touches both Freeman and Jones get, the better their chances are to pull off a stunner.

2. Fixate on Newton, no matter what

It goes without saying that Newton is the fuel that keeps the car rolling right along for the Panthers. With that said, you can’t beat the Panthers just by keeping an eye on Cam or even trying to send pressure, he’s just too smart for that. The Falcons need to not only get pressure in Newton’s face (something they’ve struggled to do all season), but they need to force him into errant throws and make him uncomfortable in the pocket. If it means giving up a few solid runs from Artis-Payne, so be it, because Atlanta should have one key focus on defense.

3. Win the time of possession battle

During Atlanta’s six-game losing streak, they won the time of possession battle just twice. In those two games, they lost by a combined four points. Not surprisingly, those were also the first two losses in the rough stretch. If Atlanta can win the time of possession battle against Carolina, it’ll not only keep the game close, but allow them to keep Newton and that powerful offense off the field. It’s going to be tough to do against Carolina’s brutal defense, but it’s a must in this Week 16 matchup.