The Carolina Panthers are just the fourth team in league history to go 14-0 and with two matchups left to go against a pair of favorable matchups there’s a very real chance they end the regular season undefeated.
But the team’s mantra for the season is “one game at a time” and that means the focus is on the Atlanta Falcons for the second time in three weeks.
Carolina narrowly escaped last week’s blowout turned nail-biter against the Giants and now will travel to Atlanta to face off with the team that they blew out 38-0 just two weeks ago.
The Panthers dominated the Falcons in their first meeting on both offense and defense as they scored early and often and shut down Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman and didn’t allow a single point.
This time around the Panthers are still seeking perfection as well as the opportunity to lock up homefield advantage throughout the playoffs which they can do with a win here. The Falcons on the other hand finally ended their losing skid last week and will look to exact revenge against a divisional rival who embarrassed them not long ago.
In this second meeting between the two teams, here’s what to watch for as the Panthers travel to the Georgia Dome.
Tackling a Recent Foe
An interesting aspect to look at in this matchup is the time between meetings for these teams. As mentioned previously, these rivals faced off just two short weeks ago; something that could affect the teams both in a good and bad way.
The Panthers handled this Falcons team at home in Week 14 and were and still are the more talented bunch. But Carolina certainly can’t expect to walk into Atlanta and dominate the way they did so easily. This being an away matchup will have its effect on the game, although the Panthers fans have travelled well and should have a solid attendance in the Georgia Dome.
Also to be taken into consideration is the revenge-factor. Needless to say, the Falcons were probably none too pleased with being embarrassed the way they were in the previous matchup and already certain players have expressed their thoughts towards the Panthers actions and Josh Norman specifically and you can likely expect a bit more fight out of this team at home.
The Panthers can use it to their advantage though, even though they have more to lose (perfection, homefield) Cam Newton and his team have shown poise throughout the season and have kept a level head against even the weakest opponents for the most part.
They’ve had their moments of weakness but overall the Panthers have to like their chances once again versus the Falcons.
The Payne Train
The rookie was the most effective runner by far last week racking up 93-total yards. He helped the offense keep things moving and left almost no drop off in the run game. Of course, Newton’s big day on the ground certainly helped but Artis-Payne played a big role in maintaining a balanced attack.
This week, Ron Rivera has said they will use a similar approach for the rushing attack with Stewart being held out again.
This would mean that Artis-Payne would still share carries with Fozzy Whittaker and Mike Tolbert. While that may still be the case on third down or short yardage situations, expect the rookie to still receive a majority of the carries and come close if not exceed his total of 14 from last week.
Atlanta is giving up just over 100-yards per game but after giving up 142 to the Panthers in Week 14 and with Newton likely to help out, look for Artis-Payne to still have a solid and productive day for Carolina.
Defensive Rebound, Part 2
Prior to the Panthers last matchup with the Falcons they had just given up 38 points and this time around they’ll be coming off of another shoddy performance in which they gave up 35; which means another defensive rebound will be needed.
Even in another down year for this team, Jones and Freeman have been terrific playmakers and have the ability to make a team pay for any lapse in coverage or scheme. Last week these two rebounded in a big way as Jones went over 100-yards and Freeman had over 100-yards of total offense, with each scoring.
In their last matchup with Carolina they were essentially shut down, but with revenge on the mind and a big performance to build off of, the Panthers will have to keep them in check once again.
They’ll need to look at what they did best two weeks ago and attempt to replicate that to achieve the same result. The biggest thing was the pressures from the front seven with Kawann Short and Thomas Davis have big days which they’ll need to repeat here.
Norman against Jones will be another one to watch obviously, as the Panthers corner will look to forget last week’s incident with Odell Beckham and focus on shutting Jones down once again.