FALCONS (4-3) VS. PANTHERS (5-3)
SUNDAY, 1 P.M. ET, BANK OF AMERICA STADIUM, CHARLOTTE, N.C. uTV: FOX, DIRECTV 710
Announcers: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews
About the Falcons: After experiencing dense night fog at New England and torrential day rain in the Week 8 game at New York against the Jets, Atlanta stays on the road for a third consecutive week before returning home to the friendly indoor environment of Mercedes Benz Stadium in Week 10. “You never know in Carolina,” Falcons QB Matt Ryan said of Sunday’s weather forecast (mid-70s, a stray shower). “It could get weird down there.” It would feel weirder if the Falcons had not rallied for a crucial 25-20 win against the J-E-T-S, a victory that ended a three-game slide and perhaps saved their season. The game marked the Falcons’ fourth consecutive game against an AFC East foe and resulted in their only victory inside that division after home losses to Buffalo and Miami and a road loss against the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots. About the Panthers: At the midway point, Carolina’s defense appears to be championship caliber but its sputtering offense remains a work in progress under QB Cam Newton, who said he doesn’t want to be “Debbie Downer” and “a lot of teams wish they were 5-3.” Perennial Pro Bowl MLB Luke
Kuechly returned to the lineup after missing one game dealing with a concussion and going through league protocol. Kuechly had eight tackles and one interception, keying a stifling Panthers defense that had two picks, one fumble recovery and three sacks and limited the Buccaneers to 279 total yards. The Panthers held their second consecutive foe without a TD, their fourth opponent overall this season.
Matchup to watch: Falcons DT Grady
Jarrett vs. Panthers C Tyler Larsen. Jarrett promises to be a load for Larsen, who has started six games and played the bulk of two others in place of injured starter C Ryan Kalil (neck). Jarrett is the prototypical run stuffer and had four tackles for losses against the Jets.
Player to watch: Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey. The versatile eighth overall pick has made his mark mostly as a receiver,
leading all NFL running backs with 49 catches for 378 yards and two TDs. He poses a matchup nightmare for linebackers and DBs alike, lining up in the backfield, slot or on the perimeter. Number crunching: 151. With one sack against Tampa Bay, Panthers DE Julius Peppers passed Chris Doleman for fourth place on the NFL’s all-time list. Peppers has a teamhigh 7.5 sacks this season. KEYS TO THE GAME
1. Off track: Newton rushed for a teamhigh 44 yards against Tampa Bay, his third straight game as the Panthers’ leading rusher. He also leads the team with three rushing TDs, two more than RB Jonathan Stewart.
2. Go figure: The Panthers are second in the NFL in average time of possession (33:34) but have little to show for it on the scoreboard — they’re 23rd in points per game (18.5). They also rank near the bottom in red-zone offense (11 of 24, 46.3 percent), another indication of offensive inefficiency.
3. Sad sacks: The Falcons’ pass rush is due for a breakout game. OLB Vic Beasley Jr. is on pace to get seven sacks, well below his NFL-leading total of 15.5 last season, and their first-round draft pick, DE Takkarist McKin
ley, has only two sacks. Newton has been sacked 22 times. 4. Injury update: The status of four players is in doubt. Atlanta: RB Devonta Freeman (right shoulder) and McKinley (possible concussion). Carolina: RG Trai Turner (knee), LB Thomas Davis (ribs).
Panthers’ Christian McCaffrey JEREMY BREVARD, USA TODAY SPORTS