Atlanta Falcons vs. Carolina Panthers: Final Thoughts

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It’s do-or-die time for the Atlanta Falcons.

Playoff football has come early for the Atlanta Falcons, as they enter what is effectively a knockout game with the Carolina Panthers. If the Falcons lose, any slim remaining hopes of reaching the postseason will turn to dust. Win, and they can pull themselves back into the mix.

But to win, the Falcons will need to end a horrible run of five straight defeats. Dan Quinn’s team has lost six of the seven games since beating Washington to go 5-0. That’s a stat you will have heard a number of times this week, but it puts the Falcons’ free fall into perspective. Ahead of the big game, here are my final thoughts.

Believe

This is it for the Falcons. Last week, they let one get away in Tampa Bay, and it was a loss they may not be able to come back from in terms of the playoff hunt. But until they are mathematically out of it, the Falcons must play hard.

And while the losing run makes it feel like there is a three-game gap separating the Falcons and a wild-card spot, they are in fact just one game behind the Seattle Seahawks. But to keep it that way, Dan Quinn’s team must do what 12 other teams have been unable to, and that’s defeat the Carolina Panthers.

Want to know the last time the Panthers lost at Bank of America Stadium? November 16, 2014. The opponent? The Atlanta Falcons. Since then, the Panthers have gone 9-0 in front of their own fans (playoffs included). It’s time to end the run, and the Falcons must play with confidence.

No mistakes

To beat the Panthers, you need to play a near-perfect game. The Falcons have been a million miles away from perfect of late, and that’s largely down to their desire to beat themselves week in week out. There can be zero turnovers, and they will likely need to force a takeaway or two.

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As a whole, there can’t be too many key mistakes. No poor decisions from Matt Ryan costing either good field position or leaving points on the board. No costly fumbles. No blown coverages which lead to big gains or touchdowns.

It won’t be easy, but the Falcons can win if they protect the football and make the most of opportunities.

Don’t let Cam run the show

Cam Newton makes the Panthers tick. He is the leader, and when he’s able to hit his stride, the game is over. Newton is going to run the football, throw it deep and he can make life miserable for opposing defenders. The Falcons need to limit him.

They must find a way of containing him, not allowing him to escape the pocket and extent plays with his legs. Don’t forget about the designed runs, either, particularly on third-and-short or in goal line situations. Newton has the ability to power forward like a running back in short yardage situations.

The best way to beat Newton is to make him throw the football and throw it often. He has a rocket arm and can sling it 40 yards with precision, but Newton has completed just 58.4 percent of his passes this season, which ranks No. 29 in the league. To add to that, Newton has made 373 pass attempts, No. 19 in the NFL.

That’s not to say Newton isn’t a good passer; he can throw the football perfectly fine. But the Panthers need to make his right arm his only weapon.

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