The Panthers are one win away from the NFC South crown, but a tough division rival stands in their way of a first round bye. The Atlanta Falcons have been decimated by injuries all season and the team has failed to produce. Atlanta is still a very talented squad filled with explosive players, especially on offense. The following is a list of players that the Panthers must account for if they want to win on Sunday.
TE Tony Gonzalez
This is Atlanta’s home finale and it is also Tony Gonzalez’s retirement game (supposedly). No doubt Tony and the fans will be fired up for the last game of his hall of fame career. Tony is still a force to be reckoned with at age 37. Coming into this game Gonzalez has 79 receptions for 803 yards and 8 touchdowns. Solid numbers for any tight end. Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis will have to lock Tony down, otherwise he will terrorize the middle of the field, an area the Panthers defense has really struggled. Tony is probably the greatest tight end to ever play the game and you know he wants to finish his career with a bang. Too bad the Panthers have other plans.
WR Harry Douglas
Douglas has stepped up in a big way in the absence of superstar receiver Julio Jones. Douglas has 78 catches for 1,009 yards and 2 touchdowns. Roddy White is still a great possession receiver, but Harry is the guy the Panthers need to keep an eye on. If they fall asleep on him, Douglas has the ability to take it to the house. Captain Munnerlyn will draw Roddy White the majority of pass plays, so it will be up to corners Melvin White and Josh Thomas to guard Douglas. This is worrisome, because both White and Thomas are known for their run defense more so than their coverage abilities. Douglas could be in for a big game with added focus being applied to Gonzalez and White.
DL Osi Umenyiora
Umenyiora is one of Atlanta’s big off-season acquisitions. He has 7.5 sacks on the year, 1.5 more than he had last year. Osi is not the same force he used to be but Jordan Gross has seemed to struggle against some of the veteran edge rushers. Panthers fans still have scars from the 4.5 sack game Mario Williams of Buffalo had. Jordan has had a solid season all year and he will need to continue that trend to keep Cam clean and the chains moving. Osi will be looking to bring the pain and vent frustration from a lost season.
The Falcons are pissed and relishing the opportunity to play the spoiler this weekend. The I-85 rivals will be clashing on Sunday so expect this one to get chippy. If the Panthers can shut down these 3 players they should see tremendous success come tomorrow. So here’s to the Panthers, 1 win away from the NFC South! Go Panthers!