Dec 8, 2011
THE STORY: The Carolina Panthers are still at least a year away from contending for a playoff spot, but they can help spoil a division rival's postseason hopes when they host the Atlanta Falcons in an NFC South matchup Sunday at Bank of America Stadium. The Falcons have won five of the past six meetings, including a 31-17 win at home Oct. 16 and a season sweep last season, winning by 31-10 margins.
TV: FOX, 1 p.m. ET. LINE: Falcons -3, O/U 48
ABOUT THE FALCONS (7-5): The Falcons' chances of winning the division are fading fast after last week's 17-10 loss at Houston - they're now two games back of division leader New Orleans - but they're still in the thick of a crowded wild card race as one of three teams tied for two playoff spots. The Falcons have been tough against the run, ranking third in the league with 90 yards allowed per game, but they've been susceptible against the pass and will be without starting CB Brent Grimes (knee).
ABOUT THE PANTHERS (4-8): Carolina QB Cam Newton continued his impressive rookie season - and the Panthers continued their climb toward respectability - with a 38-19 win at Tampa Bay last week. With three rushing touchdowns against the Bucs, Newton has 13, breaking Steve Grogan's NFL record for the most in a season by a quarterback. With 3,297 passing yards, Newton is only the fourth rookie in league history to pass for over 3,000 yards, joining Peyton Manning, Matt Ryan and Sam Bradford.
1. Falcons RB Michael Turner has five 100-yard games in the past six meetings with Carolina. He has rushed for 651 yards and 11 touchdowns in those six games.
2. Panthers WR Steve Smith needs 24 receiving yards to reach 10,000 for his career. Smith is tied for the NFC lead with 1,092 receiving yards this season.
3. Ryan has won three straight and four of five against Carolina, and he has topped a 100 rating in the past two meetings. The Falcons are 20-0 when Ryan has a rating over 100.
PREDICTION: Panthers 23, Falcons 20. Carolina has been learning how to close out games, and the Falcons' offense has been sputtering at the wrong time.
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