Week 4 saw the Carolina Panthers head to Atlanta and play an unusually close game against the Falcons. Some late-game heroics by Matt Ryan ensured Cam Newton's team returned to Carolina with a loss, something they've since become accustomed to in 2012. The NFC South doesn't always field four competitive teams, but its knack for parity each year has led to close games, even when they involve the class of the division, and its cellar-dweller.
Meet the Carolina Panthers
Instead of letting their play do the talking, the Panthers have elected to talk to the media any chance they get. Early in the season, linebacker Jon Beason went on local radio believing they were a potential Superbowl team, then center Ryan Kalil went a step further -- guaranteeing a win, and sealing it with a local newspaper ad. Despite their 3-9 record, Carolina is still talking; this time it's defensive end Greg Hardy, who infamously said in this week's lead-up that his team was better than the Falcons, despite having eight less wins.
Meet the Atlanta Falcons
With the division in hand and No. 1 seed in sight, the Falcons are looking to put away Carolina and coast for the remainder of the season. Their victory last week over New Orleans ensured that they would hold the title of NFC South Champions, but their job has barely started. This team has been routinely accused of under-achieving when it counts, being supremely talented, but failing in the postseason. The 2012 year has become a mandate on Matt Ryan, as much as the Falcons, and now it's time for his team to take the next step.
Local Takes: Carolina Panthers
As I wrote for Cat Scratch Reader, the Panthers have hit the time for experimentation, and this is really Carolina's only shot:
"Based on reports, it's likely Steve Smith will be scaled back, and Joe Adams will become a larger part of the offense. A forth-round rookie shouldn't be much to fear, but Adams is a complete wild card with the ball in his hands (for better, or for worse)."
Local Takes: Atlanta Falcons
Dave Choate for The Falcoholic has no fears on Sunday, predicting Atlanta will crush the Panthers:
"They'll be coming into this one pumped up and ready to go, and this is a demonstrably worse Panthers team than they faced earlier this season, road game be damned."
Follow the Fun
Be sure to check out SB Nation's team blogs, Cat Scratch Reader, and The Falcoholic, for more analysis and highlights from the game.
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Greg Hardy thinks diet cola is better for you than oatmeal.— Dave Choate (@TheFalcoholic) December 6, 2012
The 11-1 Falcons will beat the 3-9 Panthers but two lucky Carolina fans will receive a gift from the organization -- two cellphones that are at least 18 months old! That kinda says it all right there for the Panthers.
The pick: 26-13, Falcons
Despite the Panthers' woes, OddShark have the Falcons only favored by 3.5 points.
The Carolina Panthers head on the road for a trip out west to face the similarly dysfunctional San Diego Chargers.
It's a considerably more difficult test for the Atlanta Falcons, who return home to face the New York Giants.