On any other week it would be easy to call Sunday's game between the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers a 'trap game' -- one where the 11-1 falls victim to underestimating a struggling team, finding themselves with an unexpected loss. However, with Panthers' defensive end Greg Hardy going on the record saying that the 3-9 Panthers are 'better' than the Falcons will ensure Mike Smith's team wont take this contest lightly. These are the three things to watch in Sunday's game.
Panthers are leaning on depth
An injury-riddled Carolina team is becoming worse, and worse off. Earlier this week starting free safety Sherrod Martin was placed on injured reserve, and this week it appears that Brandon LaFell, Charles Godfrey, Dwan Edwards, Jonathan Stewart, and James Anderson could be out. The Panthers are already lacking depth, and with potentially five more starters out, the road is paved to be very easy for Atlanta.
Carolina have reached the 'what sticks?' portion of their season
Ron Rivera has said that the Carolina Panthers will try different players, and begin taking a deeper look at their young players in preparation for next year. It's unclear whether Rivera will be in the head coaching job to see it, but as the team moves forward look at their depth, it presents a rare opportunity for Atlanta to take advantage late-season of a team who are in preseason mode.
Steve Smith will have extended time off, with rookie Joe Adams getting more snaps. Adams is a quick receiver, but has a propensity to fumble -- giving more chances for Atlanta to capitalize.
Gash them up the gut
If defensive tackle Dwan Edwards is unable to play, the Carolina Panthers will be playing an under-performing 3rd round pick from 2011 (Sione Fua), and an undrafted free agent (Andre Neblett) as their starting defensive tackles. Last week this was as disasterous as it sounds, with Jamaal Charles running all over Carolina's defense.
Michael Turner excels at everything the Panthers fail at, and for this reason Dirk Koetter should set up his play-action passing, and have a field day. There is nothing to fear about the Panthers' defense, and to this end he should thrive.