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NFL Preview - Atlanta at Carolina

NFL Preview - Atlanta (0-0) at Carolina (0-0)


By -> NFL Analyst and Ecobika independent ->Free Sports Betting advices.



A year ago, the Atlanta Falcons were coming off an appearance in the NFC Championship game and entered the 2005 season with high expectations that wound up never coming to fruition. The Carolina Panthers hope that type of history won't repeat itself in their case.


The Panthers are the ones who come into 2006 with lofty aspirations, following an 11-5 regular season and a pair of road playoff victories which landed them in last year's conference title game. Carolina will begin its Super Bowl quest Sunday against the rival Falcons in an intriguing Week 1 NFC South showdown at Bank of America Stadium.


The consensus among NFL pundits is that Carolina is the team to beat in the NFC, and for good reason. The Panthers boast one of the league's most feared defenses, a quarterback who can rise to the occasion in Jake Delhomme, a dynamic offensive playmaker in dangerous wideout Steve Smith, plus outstanding special teams play.


Atlanta stumbled badly in the season's second half to finish 2005 at a lackluster 8-8, but head coach Jim Mora Jr.'s troops possess plenty of talent and figure to ensure Carolina won't have a cakewalk in the competitive South division. The Falcons bring back six players who were named to last year's NFC Pro Bowl squad, including exciting but erratic signal-caller Michael Vick (2412 passing yards, 15 TD, 13 INT) and shutdown corner DeAngelo Hall. By contrast, Carolina sent four players to Honolulu a season ago.


SERIES HISTORY


The Falcons lead the all-time series with Carolina, 14-8, but were swept in a home-and-home last season. Atlanta dropped a 24-6 decision in Charlotte in Week 13, and were routed, 44-11, at the Georgia Dome in Week 17. Prior to 2005, Atlanta had won nine of their last 10 overall against the Panthers, including their own home-and-home sweep in 2004.


Carolina's John Fox enters Sunday's contest with a 3-5 career mark against Atlanta, while the Falcons' Mora is 2-2 against both Fox and Carolina as a head coach.


FALCONS OFFENSE VS. PANTHERS DEFENSE


Atlanta's bread and butter is its run game, as the Falcons have finished atop the league in rushing yards in each of the last two seasons. Vick, who ran for 902 yards in 2004 and nearly 600 last year, is the league's most dangerous scrambler, while veteran Warrick Dunn (1416 rushing yards, 3 TD) enjoyed a career year running behind an offensive line that returns mostly intact. The 31-year-old Dunn may have to shoulder more of the load this year, however, following last month's trade of short-yardage specialist T.J. Duckett to Washington. With Duckett gone, underrated fullback Justin Griffith may see more carries near the goal line.


The Panthers can counter Atlanta's ground prowess with one of the NFL's stingiest run defenses. Carolina finished fourth overall in rushing yards allowed (91.6 ypg) last season and could be even more formidable up front this year with the return of standout defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, who blew out his right knee in the 2005 season opener. A healthy Jenkins and the addition of free-agent signee Ma'ake Kemoeatu (40 tackles, 1 sack with Baltimore) should allow middle linebacker Dan Morgan (75 tackles, 3 sacks) to have a big year, provided he can stay out of the trainer's room. Morgan was one of the best at his position in 2004 but was hampered much of last season by a dislocated shoulder which required offseason surgery. The Panthers held Atlanta to a mere 26 rushing yards in the 2005 regular-season finale.


Vick's running ability was a big reason why the Falcons were the NFL's top rushing team. His ineffectiveness as a passer was another. The former No. 1 overall pick still hasn't proven he can deftly run Atlanta's west coast offense and his 79.3 passer rating was 12th among NFC quarterbacks a year ago. An inconsistent receiving corps also contributed to the Falcons' No. 27 overall rank in passing offense (167.4 ypg), and the season-ending knee injury to Brian Finneran (50 receptions, 2 TD) during training camp certainly won't help matters. Mora hopes the recent acquisition of the speedy Ashley Lelie (42 receptions, 1 TD with Denver) will help ease the burden from youngsters Michael Jenkins (36 receptions, 3 TD) and Roddy White (29 receptions, 3 TD). Vick's favorite target is trusty tight end Alge Crumpler (65 receptions, 5 TD), although the Pro Bowl selection is coming off offseason surgeries to his knee and shoulder.


Atlanta's unstable air attack will go up against a good Panthers' pass defense which finished ninth overall in yards allowed (191.1 ypg) in 2005. Carolina's strength is a relentless pash rush led by its tremendous defensive end tandem of Julius Peppers (50 tackles, 10.5 sacks) and Mike Rucker (44 tackles, 7.5 sacks). The Panthers ranked seventh in the NFL with 45 sacks last season. The secondary features two very good corners in Ken Lucas (69 tackles, 6 INT) and Chris Gamble (75 tackles, 7 INT) but lost starting strong safety Marlon McCree (88 tackles, 3 INT) and nickelback Ricky Manning, Jr. in the offseason. Former Giant Shaun Williams (19 tackles, 2 INT) and rookie Richard Marshall, the team's second-round selection, will be counted on to fill those voids.


PANTHERS OFFENSE VS. FALCONS DEFENSE


The last time we saw Atlanta in a game which counted, Carolina's DeShaun Foster ran over, around and through the Falcon defense to the tune of 165 yards on only 18 carries in that Week 17 win. Failing to stop the run was a recurring problem for Atlanta last season and a prime reason why the team failed to make the playoffs. The Falcons took steps to rectify the situation by signing beefy veteran defensive tackle Grady Jackson (38 tackles, 1 sack with Green Bay) plus a pair of tough safeties in Lawyer Milloy (106 tackles, 1 INT, 1 sack with Buffalo) and Chris Crocker (81 tackles, 2 INT, 2 sacks with Cleveland). Atlanta also sorely missed middle linebacker Ed Hartwell (22 tackles), who ruptured his Achilles in Week 5 and was lost for the remainder of the year. Unfortunately, Hartwell will miss this game as well while recovering from arthroscopic surgeries on both of his knees, leaving either untested youngster Jordan Beck or Demorrio Williams to man the middle.


Foster (879 rushing yards, 34 receptions, 3 TD) is a premier back when at full strength, as evidenced by his dominant performance against the Falcons in last year's regular-season finale and his 151-yard effort versus the Giants in the wild-card round of the 2005 NFC playoffs. The problem is he's rarely at 100 percent. Two of his four NFL seasons have been cut short by injury and he suffered a broken right leg in Carolina's victory over Chicago in last year's divisional playoffs. Foster seems to have returned strong from that latest setback, however, and should team with exciting rookie DeAngelo Williams to better a Panthers' ground attack that ranked just 19th in the league (104.9 ypg) in 2005.


While Foster does come into the opener healthy, Carolina's most important offensive weapon does not. Smith (103 receptions, 1563 yards, 12 TD) missed the entire preseason because of a left hamstring pull, then hurt his right hamstring in Tuesday's practice, leaving his status for Sunday in question. Delhomme (3421 yards, 24 TD, 16 INT) still has options if his go-to guy can't play, although they will be limited. One of the Panthers' biggest offseason moves was the signing of veteran Keyshawn Johnson (71 receptions, 6 TD with Dallas) to solidify the No. 2 wideout position, a real problem area for Carolina last year. The 34-year-old isn't a big-play threat anymore, but is as reliable as they come and can be a huge factor in the red zone. Either second-year pro Drew Carter (5 receptions, 1 TD), who flashed potential late last season, or the disappointing Keary Colbert (25 receptions, 2 TD) will start opposite Johnson if Smith can't go.


Delhomme will face an Atlanta pass defense which finished 14th in the NFL (196.1 ypg) a year ago and could very well better that ranking with the new safeties and a pass rush that could be downright scary. The Falcons acquired one of the league's top sack artists in ex-Jet John Abraham (58 tackles, 10.5 sacks) in the offseason to upgrade a defensive line which was already pretty good. Atlanta already had maybe the NFL's best pass-rushing tackle in Rod Coleman (40 tackles, 10.5 sacks) and relentless left end Patrick Kerney (53 tackles, 6.5 sacks), who has produced double-digit sack totals in three of the last five years. The Falcons also have a premier cover corner in the ultra- cocky Hall (65 tackles, 6 INT), who backed up his swagger with a super sophomore campaign.


OVERALL ANALYSIS


The Panthers also entered last season with a Week 1 home game and the preseason favorite to win the NFC South. Carolina failed to match the intensity of an emotionally-charged New Orleans team that day and was dealt a shocking 23-20 defeat. Don't expect that to happen again. Although the Falcons should be significantly better on defense and have plenty of motivation for this game, the Panthers are still better than Atlanta on both sides of the ball. Smith's injury certainly makes Carolina's offense far less explosive, but the Panthers are fully capable of grinding out a win with their defense and run game.


-> Predicted Outcome: Panthers 23, Falcons 14, click here to bet NOW!!!


Ecobika independent ->Free Sports Betting advices.


About the Author: -> Predicted Outcome: Panthers 23, Falcons 14, click here to bet NOW!!!


Ecobika independent ->Free Sports Betting advices.




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