The Falcons (11-1) are coming off an emotional win last Thursday against the hated New Orleans Saints (5-7). In that game, the Falcons defense was able to force Drew Brees into 5 interceptions and held the Saints to a season-low 13 points. They also managed to break Brees' streak of consecutive games with a passing score.
The Falcons are hoping to take this momentum into their next match up against the NFC South division rival Carolina Panthers (3-8). The Panthers are led by the explosive Cam Newton who has played his best ball of the 2012 season over his last few games. Over his last 3 contests, Newton has thrown for 790 yards and 6 touchdowns. He has also added 170 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns over that span. Unfortunately for the Panthers, they are 1-2 in those three games.
Newton is an electrifying player and he showed that in his first game against the Falcons this year. In that game, Newton threw for 215 yards and 2 touchdowns as well as rushing for a season-high 86 yards and 1 touchdown. But, unfortunately again for the Panthers, they lost the game on a last-minute drive by Matty Ice and the Falcons that saw Matt Bryant kick a game-winning field goal as time expired.
If the Falcons win this game, they will improve to 12-1 and possibly clinch the #1 seed in the NFC and home-field throughout the playoffs. They will need a little help from around the league in order to clinch this week. They would need San Francisco, Green Bay and Chicago to all lose in order to clinch this week.
But first things first. They have to beat Carolina. In order to do that, they will need to do a few things on both sides of the ball.
The first is limit Cam Newton. If the Falcons defense can use the momentum they have had over the last few games on defense into this game, then they should not have a problem controlling Newton. We need to keep an eye out for the QB read play that he likes to do. As long as our defensive ends don't run down the line after the running back, then Cam should have a rough time running the ball.
The second thing is limiting our own mistakes. Matt Ryan did not throw any interceptions last game but has thrown 7 in the previous three. If Matty Ice can return to form and throw for 300 yards and 3 touchdowns like he did in the first match up, then the offense should have an easy time scoring.
The next is to continue running the ball. Jacquizz Rodgers and Michael Turner had a great game against the Saints. They combined for 20 carries for 126 yards and 1 touchdown. If the Falcons can maintain this level of a running game, they should be able to go deep into the playoffs.
The last is to win the turnover battle. The defense needs to force Cam Newton into 3rd-and-long situations and capitalize on those by forcing bad throws and interceptions. Cause we all know that whomever wins the turnover battle most likely wins the game.
If Matty Ice and the Falcons can accomplish at least two of these things, then they should cruise to a relatively easy victory over the Panthers and move one step closer to the #1 seed in the NFC.