TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 4: Quarterback Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers celebrates after his second touchdown run against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers December 4, 2011 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
The Atlanta Falcons are looking to stay in the thick of the NFC wild card race, but they'll have to defeat the Carolina Panthers on the road to ensure they're still in the catbird's seat.
The Atlanta Falcons are working on improving their record and locking up a trip to the playoffs via one of the NFC's wild card spots. Their quest could be derailed by the Carolina Panthers this weekend, however, when Matt Ryan and friends travel to Carolina to play their NFC South rivals.
The picks and predictions are split on the Falcons advancing past the Panthers and, as SB Nation's Andrew Sharp notes in his Week 14 NFL picks, it comes down to one player suiting up for Carolina.
Atlanta at Carolina (+2.5) ... Cam, man. #Science
Cam Newton could obviously put a wrinkle in things due to his dynamic abilities from the quarterback position, as Sharp opines, and Sports Illustrated's Peter King sees things happening in a similar fashion.
When the Panthers were preparing for the draft last year, I remember GM Marty Hurney telling me how Carolina had to enter the arms race with the rest of the division. The Saints had Drew Brees, the Bucs Josh Freeman and the Falcons Matt Ryan -- who Hurney couldn't stop talking about. So here are the Falcons with everything to play for and the Panthers playing for pride, and here is Cam Newton, Hurney's choice, with a shot to knock the Falcons' playoff chances for a loop. Who'd have thought Newton would be a peer with the quarterbacks in the division so soon?
Around the worldwide web, Will Brinson is the only CBS Sports expert picking Newton and the Panthers to win, Yahoo! Sports has the Falcons in a rout and just Eric Allen and Merrill Hoge picked the Panthers during ESPN's weekly picks meet-up.