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Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Georgia
The Atlanta Falcons haven’t endured so much as a hiccup this season while the Carolina Panthers were left gasping for air after a woeful prime-time performance. Matt Ryan and the Falcons will look to continue their torrid play when they welcome their NFC South rivals to the Georgia Dome on Sunday. With a league-best 114.0 passer rating and eight touchdowns to his credit, Ryan has Atlanta vying for its first 4-0 start since the 2004 season.
While the reviews have been positively glowing in the Peach State, such is not the case for Cam Newton. The former Heisman Trophy winner has come under fire after he was visibly sulking during the Panthers’ nationally televised 36-7 home loss to the New York Giants on Sept. 20. Wideout Steve Smith took issue with the scene, causing a well-publicized exchange between the two.
ABOUT THE PANTHERS (1-2): Newton has also taken shots at home, as the Charlotte Observer ran a cartoon mocking the quarterback’s “Superman” celebration. The newspaper instead put Newton’s likeness in a “Hello Kitty” T-shirt, with the words “I like to pretend there’s a big ‘S’ on my chest.” Newton’s troubles may only get worse when he visits the Falcons, who intercepted him three times in his only foray to Atlanta last season. With Smith likely being shadowed by cornerback Asante Samuel, Brandon LaFell and tight end Greg Olsen will need to carve out some room in the Falcons’ secondary.
ABOUT THE FALCONS (3-0): While Ryan and his three-pronged attack of Julio Jones, Roddy White and future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez grab the headlines, Atlanta’s defense has been the backbone to its success. The Falcons have produced 11 takeaways – including a league-best plus-10 ratio. Safety Thomas DeCoud led the charge with two interceptions and a fumble recovery in the Falcons’ 27-3 dismantling of San Diego last week.
1. The Falcons have won the last four meetings and 22 of 34 overall between the two division rivals.
2. Carolina’s 27th-ranked rush defense will need to contend with Michael Turner, who has gouged the Panthers for an average of 104 yards and scored 11 touchdowns during a seven-game span.
3. Atlanta’s John Abraham was arrested on Monday and charged with two counts of obstruction for interfering with officers and firefighters. Despite the charge, Abraham is expected to play on Sunday.