CHARLOTTE — Welcome to the cold and dreary “Queen City.” The skies are supposed to clear up by kickoff. But right now it’s gray, it rained most of the night and the field isn’t in great shape (still chewed up in the middle from last week’s ACC title game).
But at least we know the roof won’t cave in on the Falcons and Carolina Panthers. Fortunately, there’s only one Minnesota. (I hate to see Brett Fave go out like this. Really. OK, not really.)
The roof has somewhat caved in on the Panthers. They’re 1-11 and have lost six straight. They’ve lost their last two home games by scores of 34-3 (New Orleans) and 37-13 (Baltimore).
Rookie starter Jimmy Clausen is 0-6 with one touchdown, six interceptions, 19 sacks, eight fumbles (two lost) and a 55.3 rating and a rating of 55.3 (lowest in the NFL).
Can this game be that easy for the Falcons?
These actually are the kinds of games that worry coaches. The Falcons are 10-2 with a six-game winning streak and actually can clinch a playoff berth today. But it is a division opponent on the road in potentially crummy conditions — and the Falcons didn’t exactly blow away Tampa Bay last week.
A win today is important, not just for playoff and home field reasons but because of what’s coming up. Next week the Falcons must travel to Seattle, which will be their third straight road game. Then comes the Monday night game against New Orleans. A loss to the Panthers and suddenly things get a little sticky.
About the playoffs: The Falcons went into the week knowing they could clinch today if they win and two of the following three teams lose: Philadelphia, Green Bay and the New York Giants. But with the Giants-Minnesota game postponed, they would need the Eagles and Packers to both lose. That’s not likely: Philly plays at Dallas and Green Bay is at Detroit.
Expect the Falcons to try to pound out their running game against a Carolina defense that ranks 27th against the rush. If the Atlanta defense has issues today, something is wrong. The Panthers rank last in total offense and scoring (12.8 per game).
Here are the Falcons’ inactives: John Parker Wilson (third QB), Dominique Franks, Jason Snelling (hamstring), Coy Wire, Garrett Reynolds, Mike Johnson, Lawrence Sidbury, Trey Lewis. Running back Antone Smith was activated to replace Snelling.
That’s it for now. I’ll check back shortly. Can the Falcons avoid a letdown?
– By Jeff Schultz