Falcons vs. Panthers 2013 game preview: Carolina aims to level an old score

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers look to exact some revenge against a long-standing foe.

The Carolina Panthers are flying high on the back of three-straight wins en route to the team's first winning record since 2008. On paper Cam Newton's team has the distinct edge over the struggling Atlanta Falcons, but the NFC South is one of the NFL's least predictable divisions, where any game can be lost as the result of a single mistake.

These missteps are something the Panthers are familiar with. Atlanta holds a 5-1 head-to-head record in the last three years, including three wins over Carolina since Newton was drafted. Conservative football will rule the day, and the Falcons will need to lean on their potent passing offense to knock off one the hottest teams in the NFC.

Meet the Carolina Panthers

Cam Newton described the 2013 team as "rankless and tagless," a locker room without a single voice, but rather a conglomeration of talent unafraid to air their differences. Newton's leadership has been brought into question since he entered the league in 2011, and rather than succumb to the pressure of being the team's sole leader he's eschewing popular belief and leaning on veteran wide receiver Steve Smith and left tackle Jordan Gross.

The result is clear on the field, but more importantly the sideline. Gone is the oft-criticized towel, replaced with a smile and relaxed attitude. Players have good reason to be having fun on Sundays after three-straight wins by an average of 19 points, while boasting one of the NFL's best defenses. The offense is less robotic than in past years; players have the freedom to excel in their roles rather than being forced to fit a rubric.

Meet the Atlanta Falcons

This was supposed to be Atlanta's year. A season where the team could transcend its playoff failings on the back of strong veteran play paired with promising young talent. The additions of Steven Jackson and Osi Umenyiora were supposed to be the final pieces needed to balance the offense and generate more defensive pressure, but the season has blown up.

The roster was old entering 2013, that's without question, but a series of injuries at important positions decimated the team. Atlanta had the talent to make it though the absence of Jackson, but offensive problems mounted as Roddy White started missing games, offensive tackle Sam Baker was forced out with injury and Julio Jones was placed on injured reserve. If this wasn't enough, the defense had to try and right the ship without Sean Weatherspoon and Kroy Biermann, underrated but vital elements of the Falcons' defense.

As a result, 2013 has turned from "this is our year," to "it's one of those years" and the Falcons need to limp down the stretch in hopes of better things to come.

Local Takes: Cat Scratch Reader

Jaxon from Cat Scratch Reader is surprised with how the Panthers have become the pick of pundits, and isn't surprised with their ninth ranking in the latest SB Nation power rankings.

I'm not complaining, just surprised at the turnaround in national opinion. It's a pretty accurate description of the transition we have seen in the Panthers over the past three games though.

Local Takes: The Falcoholic

Dave Choate of The Falcoholic examined exactly what went wrong in 2013 and concluded it's a combination of poor organization and bad luck.

Take away the injuries and a few bad bounces and this team's underlying issues are the kind of thing we only grumble about when the Falcons win narrowly against an inferior opponent. With injuries happening at an alarming rate, though, it's impossible not to notice the failures in acquiring talent, developing talent and prioritizing fixes that have built up over time. Sometimes you can't see the mold until the roof collapses.

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.

Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:

@CatScratchReadr

@TheFalcoholic

Prediction

Four of SB Nation's five NFL experts picked Carolina to win.

Odds

The Carolina Panthers opened as seven-point favorites, according to Odds Shark.

Next Week

Carolina heads on the road for a difficult test against the San Francisco 49ers. The Atlanta Falcons head home, but face a similarly tough game against the Seattle Seahawks.

More from SB Nation NFL

NFL power rankings: Broncos back on top

The Post-Mortem: Atlanta is truly a town of history

Trade deadline: Nicks, Gordon and the big names to watch

NFL draft stock report: Separation at the top | Draft order

Takeaways: Contenders emerge at season's midpoint

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.