This week the Carolina Panthers take on the Atlanta Falcons, a team simply looking to play the spoiler. If the Panthers win on Sunday they clinch the NFC South division outright and at the very least end up as a 2 seed in the NFC. However, should the Panthers lose, New Orleans can clinch the division with a win against Tampa and that would leave the Panthers as either the 5th or 6th seed, depending on how the NFC West shapes out. Ken Dye did an excellent job earlier in the week outlining all of these scenarios. Now moving on to Cat Crave’s x-factors for Sunday’s game:
Georgia native Charles “Big Money” Johnson loves to take on the Dirty Birds. Johnson seems to look forward to Falcons games more so than any other opponent. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s playing his home state team and that he also attended the University of Gerogia. Maybe someone on the Falcons rubbed him the wrong way and he’s never let it go. Regardless, Charles Johnson should have a big game on Sunday if the Panthers are to win and clinch their division. He had one sack earlier in this season and has 7 career sacks against the Falcons. Those might not seem like eye popping numbers, but Charles consistently gets pressure on Matt Ryan and is disruptive in the run game. He plays with a high motor and the Panthers will need that energy come Sunday against an offense with potent weapons.
Steve Smith will not be playing this week. This is a good thing as it will give him time to rest for the playoffs. However this leaves the Panthers with no true number one receiver. They are going to need guys from this position group to step up in a big way in Steve’s absence. Cue Brandon Lafell. Ted Ginn has been quietly outplaying Lafell over the last half of this season. Lafell has dropped countless passes this season in crucial situations. He’s due for a big game. The Panthers believe they have a solid number 2 guy in Brandon Lafell and he is going to have to prove them right on Sunday. He is not the quickest guy by any means but he is a solid possession receiver as well as an excellent down field blocker. Lafell should be in line for increased targets this week and if he can make some key catches on 3rd downs the Panthers will be in good shape. It will all be about keeping drives alive and keeping Matt Ryan and co. off the field.
Jonathan Stewart will miss another week of football as he rehabs a knee injury. Deangelo Williams has been asked to carry an increased load as a result and he has responded with some great games. Last week he busted off a 40 yard touchdown run that gave the Panthers their first lead in the game and completely shifted the game’s momentum. In the Jets game two weeks ago, Williams busted out a 72 yard screen for a score. He has been making big plays in multiple areas of this Panthers offense and that trend will have to continue this week against the Falcons. Too many times against the Saints, Deangelo was bottled up in the backfield. That can be attributed to the poor run protection the Panthers had all game. Deangelo should get 15 carries this week and when he tends to get more touches he finds a rhythm and really starts to excel. Do not be surprised if Deangelo has a 100 yard rushing game this week.
These are 3 guys who will have to step up with all of the injuries to this team if the Panthers are to win on Sunday. Of course Cam and the rest of the cast will have to play well, but these are guys who really need to show up for this team to gut out a win. Sunday’s game should be an exciting one as the Panthers look to clinch the NFC South for the first time since 2008 (also the last year they made the playoffs). Go Panthers! Keep Pounding!