Now the Panthers get to see if they can beat a big-time quarterback.
If you're keeping count, the 4-8 Panthers' four wins this season have come against starting quarterbacks named Curtis Painter, Josh Johnson, Blaine Gabbert and John Beck. That's not exactly a murderers' row -- you could argue, in fact, that only Gabbert has any sort of future among the four. The rest are basically backups who were temporarily thrust into a starting role.
But the Panthers have come close to beating a couple of big-time quarterbacks this season, and they'll get another chance Sunday when they face Matt Ryan and the Falcons.
Ryan is smart enough to avoid major errors -- especially when he's simply handing off to Michael Turner. In the teams' first game this season, Ryan only threw 22 times, Turner ran 27 times and the Falcons won by a couple of touchdowns.
Ryan isn't having a great year by his standards, but he was plenty good enough to lead the Falcons to 17 unanswered fourth-quarter points against Carolina on Oct. 16. How Carolina fares on third down against Ryan -- and how they tackle the bowling ball that is Turner -- will likely determine this game's outcome.
-- Don't forget that you can contribute to the Marine's "Toys for Tots" drive by bringing a new, unwrapped toy to the Panthers' game Sunday. Marine representatives will be at each gate to collect the toys. Fans can also visit ToysforTots.org/touchdown through Dec.24th to sponsor a child.
-- If it seems like the Panthers rarely beat the Falcons these days, it's true. Atlanta holds a 21-12 edge in the series and current Falcons coach Mike Smith is 5-2 against Carolina, including three wins in a row.
-- I've picked the Panthers' outcome correctly the past four weeks in a row in this space. This week I think Carolina's two-game win streak comes to an end. My prediction: Atlanta 27, Carolina 20.