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Falcons and Panthers meet Sunday in Atlanta

The Falcons and Panthers have gone in different directions since the end of the 2012 season.

The Atlanta Falcons host the Carolina Panthers Sunday at the Georgia Dome. The Falcons have little hope in trying to make the playoffs, while the Panthers are trying to stay undefeated.

It’s amazing how these two franchises have changed the last few years. Just three seasons ago, the Falcons were in a similar spot as the Panthers – on top of the NFC. They went on to lose to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC title game to miss playing in the Super Bowl.

The Panthers were 7-9 that season. They had finished their fourth straight non-winning season. Quarterback Cam Newton had just completed his second year, and the jury was still out on whether or not he would be a NFL star.

Since then these two franchises have gone in the opposite direction. The Falcons are 17-29 since losing to San Francisco, while the Panthers have won the NFC South three straight seasons and have gone 33-12.

An improved defense has been a big reason the Panthers have become an elite team. Cornerback Josh Norman is becoming a great player, even with his mouth sometimes making things interesting on the field. Former Georgia Bulldog Thomas Davis, Luke Kuechly and Kurt Coleman are having fantastic seasons.

And, of course, Newton is having a potential MVP season. He’s got 4000 yards between his passing and rushing numbers, and it didn’t matter the Panthers lost a prime receiver when Kelvin Benjamin went down in August with an injury. Newton has run the offense with precision to make Carolina hard to stop.

The Falcons’ defense has been better this season, but two weeks ago we saw how leaky it still is when the Panthers put 38 points on the scoreboard. That was almost expected, considering how well the Panthers have played on offense this season. What wasn’t expected, though, was for the Falcons to not score one measly point.

Atlanta finally snapped the six-game losing streak last week with a win in Jacksonville. That really didn’t answer the multitude of questions that remain about first-year coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s offense. It’s been a mess, and to trust Atlanta to do better Sunday against a team that wants to stay undefeated is a waste of time.

Shanahan is getting blame for Atlanta’s offensive troubles, but what responsibility does Matt Ryan hold in this collapse? The Falcons started 5-0, scoring over 30 points a game. Then in the next eight games, Atlanta scored only 14 points a game.

It’s scary to wonder about Ryan, particularly with another quarterback in the same division emerging as a MVP candidate. Is Ryan just having an off year, or now that he’s 30 has he passed his prime?

What a shame the Falcons didn’t capitalize on their great 2012 season and reach that next level or even sustain that same success. Instead, like has happened a lot with this franchise, it slipped backwards and is now looking up at a better Carolina team.

So what will we see Sunday? Will the Falcons play hard and give it all they’ve got and possibly pull off the upset of the season? Or will Carolina clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs and show how dominant they’ve become in such a short time?0

It’s hard to bet on the Falcons, who at the end of the season perhaps need to follow Carolina’s blueprint to get back on top in the NFC South.

 

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

 


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