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Falcons Schedule 2011: Eagerly Awaiting The Division Rival Panthers

Over the past few years, Falcon-Panther matchups have been some highly contested games, often accentuated by the fact that these two teams simply don't like each other. Fortunately for the Falcons, the Panthers' lack of a fully capable QB at the moment likely puts them at a disadvantage for their week six trip to the Georgia Dome.

This game marks the Falcons coming off a very tough five-game stretch to open the 2011 season, which makes it all the more crucial that Ryan & Co. can beat the Panthers. However, given their surprisingly underrated defense the Falcons cannot afford to overlook a Panthers team with a fair share of elite-caliber players.

THE SKINNY:
Record
: Went 2-14 in 2011 (worst record in the NFL)
Last Meeting: Twice in 2010 (Falcons won both games)
Notable Additions: TE Greg Olsen (trade), TE Jeremy Shockey, K Olindo Mare, QB Cam Newton (draft pick)
Notable Losses: CB Richard Marshall, QB Matt Moore, TE Jeff King

When Jerry Richardson mentioned that the Panthers would be "aggressive" during free agency, many people scoffed at the idea of the notably stingy owner going on a spending spree. However, that's exactly what the Panthers did. Carolina most notably traded for Bears TE Greg Olsen. The team also managed to keep several of their own high profile free agents, including RB DeAngelo Williams, LB James Anderson, and DE Charles Johnson, whom the Panthers brought back on a whopping six-year, $72M contract.

For the 2011 edition of the Panthers, they look surprisingly similar to the one that went 2-14 last season. The defense, led by LB Jon Beason, looks on paper to be an above average defense at the very least. The front four are still in question, but Carolina's linebacking corps is probably top-five in the NFL. While the defense may not shut down what is perhaps the best Falcons offense I've ever seen, Turner is not going to run all over them either.

Then we come to the offense, which (along with injuries) was the achilles heel for the Panthers last year. Matt Moore, Jimmy Clausen, Tony Pike, and Brian St. Pierre all appeared at QB for Carolina last season. This year, it appears Clausen and first overall pick Cam Newton are battling it out for the signal-caller job, and by all accounts neither has been particularly impressive this preseason.

For the Falcons, this game should be a real chance for the secondary to shine. With No.2 WR David Gettis out for the year with an ACL tear, the receiving options are once again limited to Steve Smith (and Greg Olsen). Thus, it will come down to Grimes being able to shut down Smith, and the Abe-Edwards tandem being able keep Newton in the pocket and wrap him up when he's running.

Still, with the first five games being so tough, this game will serve as a nice breather for the Falcons.

For more on the Falcons, check out The Falcoholic. For more on the Panthers, check out Cat Scratch Reader.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.