Falcons DE John Abraham vs. Panthers LT Jordan Gross: Abraham is the NFL’s leading active sack leader with 122. Abraham appears rejuvenated by his reunion with coordinator Mike Nolan. He started his career with Nolan and the New York Jets. He’ll play some right and left end against the Panthers, but his battles with Gross are usually fierce. Gross has started 147 games over his 10-year career.
Falcons RB Michael Turner vs. Panthers MLB Luke Kuechly: Turner averaged a season-high 6.9 yards per carry in his previous outing, Nov. 29 against the Saints, as he rushed for 83 yards on 12 carries. Kuechly, a rookie from Boston College, took over in the middle in Week 5 against Seattle. According to Panthers coaches’ film review, he has averaged 14 tackles per game since the switch. He leads the team with 147 tackles. He also has one interception and three fumble recoveries.
Falcons CB Robert McClain vs. Panthers WR Steve Smith: McClain has been a pleasant surprise for the Falcons and ranks third on the team with eight pass breakups. He solved their nickel-back woes and has provided depth to the pass defense. Teams have tried to target him, but have met stiff resistance. Smith has 53 catches for 890 yards, but only two touchdowns this season. Because the Falcons double-team him so much, he could move into the slot some and see McClain. Smith was held to three catches for 52 yards in the previous meeting.
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