When it comes to these two teams, you can easily see how their dislike for one another reveals itself on the field. More than once I can recall Steve Smith getting in a fight with "so-and-so" Falcons player. It's always been physical, and with Cam Newton in the mix this matchup looks to stay that way.
The Falcons are currently 4-2 against the Panthers under the current regime, and they also hold the all-time advantage in the rivalry (20-12). What's more comforting is that of the last five matchups, the Falcons have scored 28 points or more in four of them. Good news for a team that's been missing its offense for most of the season.
But this series is important because it holds what I consider to be one of 2008's signature wins. In a late-season matchup, the upstart 6-4 Falcons were set to take on an 8-2 Panthers team that looked well on its way to capturing the NFC South crown (which they did).
However, when the Falcons managed to pull out a decisive 45-28 victory at home in the Georgia Dome, they showed everyone else in the league that they were a serious, playoff-caliber team. These surprise Falcons, on the back of a Michael Turner-powered rushing attack that would end up being second in the league, proved all the doubters wrong. They were for real.
It was one of Turner's best days as a Falcon: 24 carries, 117 yards and four rushing touchdowns. While the defense wasn't particularly impressive, it was the ground game and Turner that essentially willed the Falcons to victory.
This game also featured what has undoubtedly been Harry Douglas' best game as a pro: he scored on both a rushing touchdown and a 61-yard punt return, in addition to four catches for 92 yards. It was a win that embodied the season: surprisingly potent offense, passable defense, and the will to win football games.
As for the two most recent matchups, both were 31-10 Falcon wins. Neither could really be called a game, however. In all fairness to the Panthers, they looked like an absolutely defeated team last season (completely different from this year, I might add). Jimmy Clausen looked... confused, to say the least.
So, here's to hoping the Falcons can get their mojo back Sunday and continue their success against the Panthers.