What's going on with Atlanta right now reminds me a lot of what the Carolina Panthers experienced in 2008 and 2009.
First, you have an incredible regular season to secure a playoff bye. For the Falcons, it was 2010, when they went 13-3 and earned the No.1 NFC seed in the playoffs. For the Panthers, it was 2008 when they went 12-4 and grabbed the No.2 seed.
Then, you blow a home playoff game badly against a hot wildcard team that would wind up in the Super Bowl. For the Panthers, it was a 33-13 loss to Arizona that spelled the beginning of the end for Jake Delhomme. For Atlanta, it was the 48-21 thumping Green Bay handed the Falcons on its way to the Super Bowl and a win over Pittsburgh.
Then you begin the next regular season like you still have a hangover, even though the talent is very similar. Carolina would end up 8-8 in 2009. The Falcons are 2-3 so far in 2011 after being picked by many to make the Super Bowl.
-- How could Carolina win Sunday? First of all, the Panthers must stop Michael Turner. The bruising running back has been a pain for Carolina for years. He had 179 rushing yards and four TDs in two Atlanta victories last year. Another time, in 2008, he scored four TDs against the Panthers in one game.
If the Panthers play run defense like they did last week against New Orleans, they've got a shot. But if Turner gets more than 100 yards today, they are in trouble.
-- Cam Newton grew up in the Atlanta area and was a Falcons fan growing up. He had a funny line this week when asked how he was going to deal with all the friends and relatives wanting tickets from him this week.
"Stubhub.com," Newton said, referring to the online ticketing site.
-- Watch DeAngelo Williams Sunday. He had his first 100-yard rushing game since 2009 last week, and he always looks faster on artificial turf to me.
-- I came closer to hitting a final score than I have last week in awhile, choosing New Orleans to win 33-27 in a game the Saints ultimately won, 30-27. That made me 16-4 over the past 20 games picking Panther outcomes.
Today I'm going with the Panthers in an upset. I think coach Ron Rivera and his team are due to win one of these close games. My prediction: Carolina 27, Atlanta 21.
6 months ago