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NFL: Atlanta Falcons @ Carolina Panthers preview

Less than a fortnight on from their overtime victory in Week 8, the Atlanta Falcons take on the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night with the chance to top the NFC South.

Plenty has changed in a short space of time since the Falcons edged out the Panthers in a 37-34 shootout at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Carolina cut ties with two of their coaching staff on Monday following their 42-21 loss at Cincinnati and, although former XFL quarterback PJ Walker will get the start, they seem to be hurtling towards making another change there, with both Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold now on deck.

The Falcons were boosted by the return of Cordarrelle Patterson against the Los Angeles Chargers last week, but lost a heartbreaker when Cameron Dicker sunk a 37-yard field goal as time expired.

WhatAtlanta Falcons @ Carolina Panthers
WhereBank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina
When01:15, Friday 11th November 2022
How to watchSky Sports NFL, NFL Game Pass & bet365 Sports Live Streaming
OddsATL Falcons 20/31, CAR Panthers 27/20

Falcons safety Richie Grant has called Thursday's matchup a "must-win" and it's hard to argue otherwise after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won to tie Atlanta for the lead in the division.

Although Atlanta were on fire in the first quarter against the Chargers, accumulating 145 total yards of offense - of which 92 were on the ground, they cooled off just as quickly.

After scoring 10 points and holding onto possession for almost 13 of the first 15 minutes, which enabled them to restrict Los Angeles to just 16 total yards, the Falcons flipped in the second quarter.

In that period Atlanta produced -5 yards of offense with the Chargers bouncing back to have 166 total yards of offense and 14 points before halftime.

Falcons failed on both sides of the ball

The most frustrating aspect for the Falcons fans was how timely and efficient the Chargers were at converting on third down, which they did eight of 16 times. 

Atlanta's defense seemed be outsmarted at every turn for long periods and there were more than just a couple of offensive miscues.

Marcus Mariota's pocket collapsed a couple of times on third down, but the Atlanta QB struggled to get on the same page as his leading targets Drake London and Kyle Pitts - who shared nine of his 11 incompletions.

"I've got to do a better job of giving our guys opportunities to make plays," Mariota said in the aftermath.

Abandoning the run was a costly mistake

The big success story was the run game, with Patterson providing some early pep and Tyler Allgeier carrying most of the load. 

The Falcons totalled 201 yards rushing with Allgeier averaging 9.9 yards a carry, Caleb Huntley almost five yards a carry and Patterson finishing with two rushing TDs.

Yet somehow, inexplicably, they went away from it in the final few drives - an error the coaching team cannot repeat.

Panthers put their faith in PJ

Carolina's new-look coaching team were tested to the full last Sunday too as the Panthers dug themselves a 35-point hole at halftime in Cincinnati. 

The one positive was that they scored more points than the Bengals in the second half as the game finished 42-21 and not quite the blowout it could have been. 

Interim coach Steve Wilks urged his team to trust the process, which is part of the reason why he'll keep faith with journeyman quarterback Walker, who had a 0.0 quarterback rating with two interceptions and three completions when he was benched at the half.

However, the 27-year-old triggerman posted a career-best 317 yards passing in Week 8 against the Falcons and is being given a shot at reprising that performance at Bank of America Stadium. 

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Foreman must get more work

Mayfield, who completed 14 of his 20 passes with two touchdown tosses in relief, is lurking in the background while 2021 starter Darnold provides a further option after being added back to the 53-man roster this week.

Panthers running back D'Onta Foreman should feature heavily as Carolina seek to establish their own ground game early on.

Foreman, who ran for 118 yards and three touchdowns the last time he faced Atlanta's defense, didn't get much of a chance once they fell so far behind against the Bengals and were forced to throw. 

Falcons could force Panthers to the air

Carolina could be close to full strength defensively with team sack leader Brian Burns (shoulder) and cornerback Donte Jackson (ankle) full participants in Tuesday's practice.

Safety Jeremy Chinn could be back after a six-week lay-off but defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni and defensive backs coach Evan Cooper won't be after both were fired on Monday.

But it has been a season of woe so far for the 2-7 Panthers, who missed two potential game-winning kicks against the Falcons before Atlanta's overtime salvo in Week 8.

The Falcons are better at both running the ball and defending the run, which could force Carolina to take to the air again - and that has usually not ended well.

So taking the visitors to cover the -3.0 Point Spread at 1/1 could be the best way to go here.

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