The Carolina Panthers will look to improve their record to 15-0 this Sunday when they travel to Atlanta to take on the Falcons in the Georgia Dome. Just two weeks ago, the Panthers walloped the Falcons, 38-0. It was the sixth straight loss for Atlanta, and it seemed like Dan Quinn's team had quit on him.
But the Falcons turned around and beat the surging Jaguars the following week to snap their losing streak. Now, at 7-7, they are clinging to the faintest of postseason hopes when they host their NFC South rivals.
Only the Falcons and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers stand in the Panthers' way on their quest to finish the regular season with a perfect record. Head coach Ron Rivera has said that he would not rest Carolina's starters as long as the games matter, and with the opportunity to secure the top seed in the NFC and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs on the line, Week 16's contest certainly meets that standard.
The Falcons are just on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, and many things will have to fall into place in Weeks 16 and 17 for them to have a shot at the postseason. Atlanta has to beat Carolina in Week 16, then beat the New Orleans Saints in Week 17, and the team will need the Seattle Seahawks and the Minnesota Vikings to lose in Weeks 16 and 17 to secure a wild card spot. If the Falcons loses to the Panthers on Sunday, they will be mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.
Even though the Panthers are arguably the best team in the NFL, they will come into the game looking to prove something. In a very chippy Week 15 matchup, the Panthers led the New York Giants 35-14 heading into the fourth quarter. The Giants led a furious comeback, tying the game on an Odell Beckham Jr. touchdown with less than two minutes remaining. Cam Newton led a 49-yard drive to put Carolina in field goal range, and Graham Gano won the game on a 43-yard field goal.
The Falcons' win over the Jaguars looked as if might slip away as Jacksonville fought back in the second half. Jacksonville tied the game at 17, but two Shayne Graham field goals sealed the victory for Atlanta. Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman both came up big for the Falcons and scored their first touchdowns in several weeks.
In their last meeting in Week 14, Carolina took a 28-0 lead into the half, and between mistakes and general ineptitude on both sides of the ball, the Falcons did not look remotely competitive.
The Panthers lead the league in takeaways, with 22 interceptions and 21 forced fumbles, and that's an area in which the Falcons have struggled this season. Atlanta has fumbled the ball 11 times this season, and Matt Ryan and backup quarterback Sean Renfree have thrown 16 interceptions. The Panthers took advantage of this in Week 14. Ryan and Renfree each threw one interception and the Falcons lost two fumbles.
This time around, the Falcons will look to clean up their mistakes in front of a friendly home crowd. If they can't, the Panthers will be the third team in NFL history to get to 15-0.
How to Watch
When: 1 p.m. ET
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta
Commentators: Kevin Burkhardt, John Lynch and Pam Oliver
Online: NFL Game Pass
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