A few pregame thoughts on the Falcons-Panthers game:
-- Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan is going through a bit of a sophomore slump. After throwing only 11 interceptions in his rookie season of 2008, he already has 10 this year. If the Panthers’ defense can get Ryan into some third-and-long situations, he’s apt to make a couple of poor decisions Sunday.
-- Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme threw for 308 yards against the Falcons the last time out in September, so I expect coach John Fox will at least loosen the handcuffs a little on the Panthers’ most-discussed player. But Fox also knows that in Carolina’s three wins this season Delhomme has thrown only 25, 17 and 14 times, so the third-and-12 draw play will still be very much in use.
-- I like this fact for some reason and am not sure why: The Falcons decided to bus to Charlotte for this game rather than fly like they have always done in the past.
-- Atlanta is only 1-3 on the road in 2009 and the Panthers played them relatively well in September before losing, 28-20. In that game, Panther defensive end Julius Peppers was single-teamed on almost every pass play and was no factor, getting neutralized by Atlanta tackle Tyson Clabo virtually every time. Peppers has played extremely well for most of the past five weeks, however, and it will be interesting to see if the Falcons gamble by single-teaming him again today.
-- Atlanta (5-3) is a slight favorite, but for some reason I think the Panthers (3-5) are going to get this one.
My prediction: Carolina 23, Atlanta 22.
Stat update: I'm 5-3 picking the Panthers' games so far in 2009. After a two-game slump, I did a little better last week, picking Carolina to lose by 10 (34-24) to New Orleans in a game they ultimately did lose by 10 (30-20).
Note: I'll be blogging during and after the game Sunday, so check back in here Sunday sometime and post your comments on the game, too.