Falcons vs. Panthers preview: Will the great Greg Hardy guarantee hold true?

Dale Zanine-US PRESSWIRE

The Atlanta Falcons won their most recent matchup with the Carolina Panthers 30-28 at home, secured in part by the late-game heroics of one Matt Ryan. The Falcons now sit at 11-1, while the Panthers are 3-9. What does a defensive end have to do with any of this?

You might ask - and rightfully so - just who is Greg Hardy?

Well, for starters, he's a starting defensive end for the Carolina Panthers. He is in the midst of a breakout season, having recorded an impressive 8.0 sacks through 12 games.

He also thinks the Panthers are a better football team than the 11-1, NFC South champion Falcons:

I'm trying to mess up their whole playoff experience. I want them to go home sick in the stomach, mad about life, a couple depression issues, all types of things

All this was spurred, apparently, after the usually choir-boy perfect Matt Ryan apparently said something along the lines of "get off our field." He may have thrown a bad word or two in there, too. What a meanie!

Regardless of what exactly was said, Mr. Hardy's feelings were hurt. But can Carolina - a team that lost to an admittedly emotional Chiefs team 27-21 last Sunday - avenge the emotional damage its defensive end suffered at the hands of the Atlanta playground bullies?

In short, no. In long... probably not.

Records mean less than matchups, but this one still favors Atlanta

It doesn't take long to see that the Panthers could easily have more than three wins at this point in the season: seven of their nine losses were by a touchdown or less, after all.

But there's something to be said for a defense that loses that many close games. Look no further than week four against Atlanta. Ryan abuses safety Haruki Nakamura, moving the ball from inside the Carolina 10 into Matt Bryant field goal range.

At the same time, the Panthers sacked Ryan seven times in that game. Tyson Clabo, playing injured, was absolutely abused by Charles Johnson, who had 3.5 sacks on the day. Sam Baker allowed Hardy to record one sack of his own.

Still, the Panthers could concievably be without hobbled safety Charles Godfrey and defensive tackle Dwan Edwards. This is after already losing top cornerback Chris Gamble and linebacker Jon Beason for the season.

Even if Carolina can mantain consistent pressure, what's stopping Ryan from throwing for another 350 yards and three touchdowns? Seven sacks, while it kept the game close, was still not enough.

And what's stopping Michael Turner from having another 100-yard day? The Panthers defense is allowing 128.8 rushing yards per game to their opponents.

As for Atlanta's defense, there's a good chance that Asante Samuel and William Moore - both game-time decisions - will sit out today's game. But let's also recall that Robert McClain (a former Panther's draft pick) filled in admirably against the Saints in an effort that held Drew Brees and the gang to just 13 points.

Carolina's offense has been pretty pedestrian. Cam Newton is experiencing the sophomore slump big time. And despite having three capable running backs at the beginning of the year, the rushing attack has been rather pedestrian.

Almost any way you look at it, this matchup favors the Falcons on paper.

But do the Panthers really have a shot?

Let's assume that Carolina's defensive line brings the heat again and sacks Ryan five or six times. Let's also assume that home-field advantage works in their favor this afternoon, and that Moore and Samuel don't play.

It still completely depends on whether the real Matty Ice shows up or not. If we have another five-interception debacle, then obviously the Falcons lose.

But if Ryan can find the open receiver against a hobbled and clearly weaker defense, this would be a shootout at worst. If the Falcons limit turnovers and penalties, as they have all season, I see no way the Panthers could really pull the upset.

So, Mr. Hardy, I have a hot, steamy helping of humble pie waiting for you at 4:00 this afternoon. Don't be late.

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