Riding a two-game losing streak, the Panthers should be happy to see NFC South rival Atlanta coming to town on Thursday night.
The Falcons are a dismal 1-6 after a heart-breaking loss to Detroit on Sunday. Atlanta had the ball, down two points, inside the Lions’ 10-yard line with under a minute left, but instead of running the clock out and kicking a field goal, the Falcons scored a touchdown and gave Detroit the ball back. The Lions then drove down the field and scored a game-winning touchdown as time expired.
Carolina is coming off a three-point loss to New Orleans and is currently 3-4, two games behind Tampa Bay for first place in the division. The Panthers’ last win was a 23-16 road win over Atlanta in Week 5.
That game marked arguably Carolina’s best offensive performance of the season. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater completed 27-of-36 passes for 313 yards and two touchdowns against no interceptions. The Panthers also ran for 124 yards on 27 carries, with Mike Davis leading the way with 89 yards on 16 carries.
Atlanta enters Thursday night’s game as the No. 31 total defense in the league (out of 32 teams), allowing 425.9 yards per game. The Falcons are one of two teams this season — the other being Seattle — allowing more than 300 passing yards per game (333.4). The Falcons are better against the run, allowing 92.4 yards per game on the ground (sixth in the league).
The Panthers currently rank 16th in the league in total offense, averaging 369.1 yards per game. Carolina’s running attack without Christian McCaffrey (ankle injury suffered in Week 2) is among the bottom half of teams in the league, averaging 105.4 yards per game.
McCaffrey returned to the practice field early this week but didn’t participate after missing the past five weeks. Head coach Matt Rhule told reporters Monday that McCaffrey could potentially be ready by Thursday night, but later in the afternoon NFL insider Ian Rapoport reported that the All-Pro back would be a “long-shot” to play.
Carolina could also be without left tackle Russell Okung and right guard John Miller for Thursday night’s game. Okung injured his calf in the third quarter of Sunday’s loss to New Orleans and did not practice Monday, while Miller was inactive for the loss and also didn’t practice Monday. If Okung can’t play, second-year tackle Greg Little should take his place protecting Bridgewater’s blindside, while second-year guard Dennis Daley will fill in for Miller.
Defensively, the Panthers will try to stop the run a little better than they did in the meeting between the two team in Week 5, when Atlanta running back Todd Gurley ran for 121 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.