You could call this game a matchup between a playoff contender and a four-win team with some problems on paper. Despite Cam Newton having an excellent season as a rookie, defensively they've been a liability. Special teams has also been far from outstanding. But the Panthers have finally started to put things together as of late, managing two wins in a row coming into this week's game.
Nevermind that those two wins were over the free-falling Buccaneers and the winless Colts. The problem with Carolina this season has never been talent. Rather, it's been a combo of injuries and a sheer inability to win close games. Now that the defense has been able to step its game up, if only marginally, that makes the Panthers all the more dangerous this weekend.
QB Matt Ryan
Ryan had a rough game. Rough as in two interceptions and misfiring on open receivers more than a few times (oh, and several dropped passes). Considering the Panthers' improved performance as of late, and Ryan's so-so game in the last matchup (14-of-22, 163 yards and one touchdown) it may be a little time for a recovery to occur.
But who am I kidding? The Texans have the No. 2 defense in the entire league, while the Panthers are allowing 230 passing yards per game, just 10 under the Falcons. The coaches and the players have been mad all week, and under this regime they've been able to play the Panthers very well. Call me crazy, but I could actually see the offense putting up some big points this week ("big"=more than 10).
RB Michael Turner
If Ryan had a rough game, Turner had the bumpiest ride in the world last week, not even surpassing 50 yards and essentially becoming a non-factor in the game. Look for Turner to bounce back against a Panthers defense that is allowing 130+ rushing yards per game. Of course, you also can't forget Turner's most recent performance against Carolina (139 yards, 2 TDs). He'll be good to go again.
TE Tony Gonzalez
If you start any receiving threat on the Falcons, make it Gonzalez. Going into last week's game, the Texans had been allowing the second-fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends. Then Tony G came into town, and caught seven passes for 100 yards on Houston. If he's having that kind of performance against good defenses, he should have a great day against the Panthers.
WR Julio Jones
Though he had his share of mental lapses last week, Jones clearly showed he's healthy and able to get open against a top-tier defense. It's also worth remembering that Julio will be covered mostly by Captain Munnerlyn, who's listed at 5'8, 186. There's a definite size advantage there if Ryan could only hit him on those deep passes.
K Matt Bryant
No description necessary.
WR Roddy White
First time I've said this all year, but when you combine his last performance against the Panthers (two catches, 21 yards) with his all of his dropped balls, well... you have a liability. I understand he's Ryan's favorite target, but my gut tells me this is the point where he starts targeting guys like Gonzalez and Julio Jones more often. Plus, Turner will be the feature guy on offense this week, not Roddy.
WR Harry Douglas
Though Douglas hasn't been guilty of that many drops, this just isn't going to be a week that really features the passing game. With a healthy Julio, Douglas is also pretty much the No. 4 option in the passing game.
One sack and no turnovers (two were reversed by penalty) against T.J. Yates doesn't give me much hope against Cam Newton. I'd stay away from the defense this week.