The defending NFC champion Carolina Panthers haven’t gotten off to a very newsworthy start to begin the 2016 NFL Season. The Panthers opened the season with a tough 21-20 defeat at the hands of the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos after kicker Graham Gano miss a 50-yard field goal as time expired. Following a 46-27 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Week 2, the Panthers were manhandled by the Minnesota Vikings 22-10 in Week 3.
The biggest culprit of the Panthers’ slow start has been the offensive line. In the opener against Denver, the Broncos sacked Cam Newton three times and hit him eight times. The unit did better against the 49ers as Newton was only sacked once and hit three times, but the offensive line struggled mightily against the Vikings in Week 3 as Newton was sacked eight times and hit a whopping 12 times.
Another factor in the Carolina Panthers’ 1-2 start has been turnovers. The three-time defending NFC South champions have thrown five interceptions and fumbled three times. Newton hasn’t looked comfortable in the pocket due to all of the pressure in the backfield, and it’s led him to some bad decisions and rushed throws.
The Atlanta Falcons, on the other hand, have won two games in a row after a surprising home defeat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1. Quarterback Matt Ryan is fourth in the NFL in passing yards with 970, good for an average of 323 per game. He’s also tied with New England Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in quarterback rating with an impressive 119.0 and has a 7-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
In addition to the explosive passing game, the Falcons also boast a two-headed monster in the backfield with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. The two have combined to help the Falcons average 136 yards rushing per game which is fifth in the NFL. Atlanta’s balanced offense is producing 34.7 points per game which leads the league.
Now that you have a little background on both teams, let’s make some bold predictions.
5. Carolina Panthers Won’t Turn The Ball Over
As mentioned above, the Panthers’ offense has turned the ball over eight times in three games, which is certainly an alarming rate. The good news for Carolina is that the Falcons’ defense has only forced one turnover through Week 3, an interception off of a tipped ball last week against the New Orleans Saints that Deion Jones returned for a touchdown. This looks like a good spot for the Panthers’ offense to get on track.
4. Falcons Will Rush For 100 Yards
Coleman and Freeman look like perfect compliments to each other as Freeman provides the power running and Coleman has the speed. Atlanta’s offensive line has also been much better so far this season which has helped to open holes. While the Panthers are only allowing 90.3 yards rushing per game to opponents, the three offense they’ve faced rank 14th, 11th, and 32nd in rushing offense this season. In addition, the Panthers will be without defensive tackle Vernon Butler, who suffered a high-ankle sprain against the Vikings.
3. Kelvin Benjamin Will Have 100 Yards And A Touchdown
For whatever reason, Newton only targeted Benjamin one time in the loss to the Vikings after throwing the ball Benjamin’s way 21 times in the first two games of the season. Although Kelvin will be matched up with one of the best corners in the NFL in Desmond Trufant, expect Newton to target his 6-foot-5 wideout early and often on Sunday. After all, Newton told ESPN that Benjamin would never have another game like he did in Week 3.
2. Matt Ryan Will Throw For 300 Yards
Carolina has the fifth-best pass defense in the NFL as they’re only allowing 183 yards passing per game, but they haven’t exactly faced a top-notch quarterback like Ryan. Trevor Siemian, Blaine Gabbert, and Sam Bradford don’t exactly present a murderer’s row of passing offenses. The Panthers have struggled to get pressure on the quarterback and have a young, inexperienced secondary. Expect Ryan to have a good day Sunday.
1. Panthers Win A Close, High-Scoring Affair
Everything says to pick the Falcons in this game. Atlanta is at home, has the No. 1 offense in the NFL and the Panthers are struggling in multiple areas of the game. That being said, Carolina is nearly in a must-win situation as a loss would essentially put them three games behind the Falcons in the NFC South. The Carolina Panthers will also want to get revenge in Atlanta after the Falcons were the only team to defeat the Panthers during the 2015 regular season. Expect Carolina to show up to play Sunday and walk away with a 34-31 victory.
[Featured Image by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images]