|10:00 AM PT11:00 AM MT12:00 PM CT1:00 PM ET18:00 GMT2:00 11:00 AM MST1:00 PM EST12:00 PM CT22:00 UAE13:00 ETNaN:� , December 23, 2018|
Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina Weather: 52°, Clear Attendance: 73,722
Panthers will be without Newton against Falcons
Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers
- The Falcons have won five of the past six meetings, including a 31-24 victory in Week 2. The lone loss in came in Atlanta's last visit to Carolina, 20-17 in Week 9 last year. Matt Ryan's 5757 passing yards and 33 TD passes versus the Panthers are second all-time behind Drew Brees (6897 yards, 44 TDs).
- Atlanta had a season-high 215 rushing yards in last week's blowout of Arizona after averaging 63.6 during a five-game losing streak. Since 2013, the Falcons' 11-1 record when rushing for 150+ yards is third best in the NFL behind New England (19-0) and Detroit (5-0).
- The Panthers' six-game losing streak is their longest since 2014, and they haven't had a longer one since dropping seven in a row in 2010. Prior to this skid, Carolina's 38-18 record (.679) since the start of 2015 had been the best in the NFC.
- Julio Jones needs just 21 receiving yards over the next two games to record the most in a five-year span in NFL history, a mark currently held by Antonio Brown with 7848 from 2013-17. Brown is the only player besides Jones to even have 6500 receiving yards over the last five seasons.
- Besides throwing the first TD pass of his career last week, Christian McCaffrey had 100+ yards from scrimmage for a team-record seventh straight game. The previous record was DeAngelo Williams with six straight in 2009, and the only longer streak this season came from Adam Thielen (eight games).
- Since Week 10, the Panthers' 11 turnovers are tied for the most in the NFL -- one more than the Falcons. Through Week 9, the Falcons had a league-low five turnovers and the Panthers were tied for third fewest with seven.
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The Carolina Panthers still have a slim chance to reach the playoffs, but they'll have to get there without their franchise quarterback.
The Panthers are probably shutting down injured Cam Newton for the rest of the season and plan to start Taylor Heinicke, who has thrown only five passes in his NFL career, on Sunday in a home game against the Atlanta Falcons.
Newton has played through a shoulder injury, but the Panthers decided they don't want to risk further damage in the final two games of the regular season.
The 2015 NFL Most Valuable Player's final game of 2018 was a 12-9 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Monday. The injury was noticeably affecting his arm strength.
"I think the frustration comes when you do any and everything to make sure your body is at peak performance," Newton said. "I think it's disheartening to me because there's so much invested time put in. ... I have to be better. That's what's so frustrating. You want it so bad and you push."
The rub for the Panthers is that they don't want to throw in the towel on the season despite a six-game losing streak. To have any shot at the playoffs, they'll have to get through the Falcons.
How the Panthers finish could determine whether head coach Ron Rivera survives past this season under new team owner David Tepper.
The players say they're motivated to make a run at the postseason for their coach and their teammates.
"To fight for each other," defensive end Mario Addison said. "It's a brotherhood. Do it for yourself and do it for the man beside you. For me, I wanted to win (these recent games) for Coach Rivera because he believes in us like nobody else."
The Falcons' disappointing year is winding down, but after a win over the Arizona Cardinals last week, they're hoping to wrap up the season on a positive note.
The elimination of troublesome penalties and turnovers benefited the Falcons in their win.
"When your preparation is right and your focus matches it, we're able to play like we like to," Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said. "I like to see that carry over from week to week."
The Falcons ended a four-game losing streak and improved to 5-9. They have no shot at making the playoffs, but a win over the Panthers would mean they could finish second in the NFC South. A loss would leave Atlanta in position to finish no better than third in the division.
Atlanta played better on defense last week and the return of middle linebacker Deion Jones was a factor. Jones had a pick-six last week and has helped solidify the unit since his return.
"We don't designate a captain, but he's definitely someone who is in the middle of it on the field," Quinn said. "For him being back in the lineup, that's a strong indicator of his awareness of the football."
The Falcons' defense won't have to face Newton, but that could mean a larger dose of running back Christian McCaffrey, who has rushed for 979 yards and seven touchdowns and caught 94 passes for 768 yards and six touchdowns.
"We have been impressed and he has our respect probably the most in space and his ability to change direction, probably the most is his ability to make guys miss," Quinn said. "That's what's jumped out to me the most. He's a difficult matchup to cover for sure."
Updated December 19, 2018