Atlanta @ Carolina
The Falcons come off a road loss to the Texans, making Atlanta that much more desperate to grab a win and keep their wildcard playoff hopes alive. The Panthers don’t have much to play for other than pride and the spoiler role, and they have just enough talent to make the Falcons sweat, especially in Charlotte.
Matt Ryan looked more like Matty Iced than Matty Ice last week, throwing a two interceptions and never looking very comfortable on the road against a Texans team that put some pressure on him most of the game. The Panthers don’t have near as good a defense as the Texans, but they arguably have a better offense and just like the Texans, they play better at home than on the road. The Falcons haven’t traveled well of late, but Ryan should have a nice bounce back game with around 240 yards and a couple of scores. Michael Turner should also have a better game, as the Panthers have been in the bottom third of the league in stopping the run most of the season, so get him in those playoff lineups if at all possible.
Speaking of being in lineups, Cam Newton should be in any lineup where he’s owned (and should have been started since oh, Week 3 or so), as Newton has been almost the entire offense for the Panthers of late. Jonathan Stewart and Deangelo Williams have taken turns having decent games in the last few outings, but almost all the rushing scores still go through Newton, who has 13 on the season, and with four games remaining may actually threaten 20 on the year, which is simply unthinkable for most RBs, let alone a QB.
Steve Smith has been his favorite target all year, but has cooled off considerably, dropping in catches and targets progressively over the last month, culminating with a bad 2-32 outing last week. You can’t bench him based on the fact that Newton could rediscover him to the tune of 7-8 catches for 100+ yards and a score, but the recent trends says around 5-60 is probably more likely, and you’ll have to hope and pray for only his second touchdown in more than a month. None of the secondary targets have been worth much of late, but if you have to roll with anyone, Greg Olsen is probably the only one to use out of the tight end position, and even that has been iffy during the same stretch that Steve Smith has fallen off in.
QB Matt Ryan, RB Michael Turner, WR Roddy White, TE Tony Gonzalez, QB Cam Newton
Middle of the Road:
WR Julio Jones, RB Jonathan Stewart, WR Steve Smith, TE Greg Olsen
WR Harry Douglas, RB Deangelo Williams, WR Brandon LaFell