As if the Falcons could be any less concerned with the Panthers in 2011, the team could begin the season having parted ways with top-flight WR Steve Smith. Although it has long since speculated that Smith has wanted out of Carolina, it appears that the Panthers' front office might also be interested in selling the disgruntled wide receiver to a playoff-caliber team.
The Panthers are a team clearly moving in a younger direction, and would be building for the future by trading Smith for some younger, high potential players that could be impact guys a few years down the road. Smith's preferred suitors include the San Diego Chargers, the Oakland Raiders and the Baltimore Ravens.
Obviously, any potential trade talks involving Smith have been put on hold by the NFL until the labor dispute is settled. However with Smith gone, the Panthers would lose a three-time All Pro receiver and will most likely rely on second-year wideouts Brandon LaFell and David Gettis at the wide receiver position.
For the Falcons, this means that two games on next year's schedule get noticeably easier, at least for the defense. Add a rookie QB in Cam Newton to the mix and you can bet that the Falcon's defense can't wait to get a crack at the Panthers next season. Considering the possibility that the 2011 season could be shortened to as few as eight games due to the lockout, two games against an unintimidating Panthers team could make all the difference in the world for the Falcons.
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