Talk to people around the Panthers organization and they’ll tell you the last few weeks have been almost like fun and games: the mood has been lighter and happier among the players.
Winning will do that.
Carolina, after struggling out of the gate to a 1-3 record, have won their last three games in a row and are above .500 for the first time since 2008. Coincidentally, that was the last time the team made the playoffs.
The Panthers are starting to play like so many have deemed them capable. The defense is in the top half of the league in almost every category and the offense is starting to click behind the stellar play of Cam Newton. Newton, during the three game winning streak has thrown for 667 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions. On top of all this, Jonathan Stewart is expected to make his triumphant return to the field after missing almost 11 months after undergoing surgery on both ankles.
While the Cats are looking to lengthen their second place lead in the NFC South, they will face a familiar foe that, to be frank, has owned them in recent years.
The Atlanta Falcons entered the year on everyone’s list as a team to watch come playoff time. Instead the team has limped to a 2-5 start. Injuries to leading receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White have taken some of the air out of the sails for the team while Matt Ryan has also struggled, even throwing four interceptions in his last game against the Cardinals.
Despite the Falcons’ not so hot start, Atlanta has won five of the last six contests against Carolina. It’s hard to call this a must win game for the Panthers but in reality it is. A win would give the team a 5-3 record, some cushion in the NFC South and firmly in contention for a playoff spot.
As impressive as the Cats win streak has been, the combined record of those teams is a lowly 4-18. The schedule heats up fast after the contest against the Falcons. The Panthers will travel to San Francisco (6-2) and then play the New England Patriots also (6-2).
As stated in the column, Jonathan Stewart is expected to make his season debut this weekend after participating in practice on Wednesday. The Panthers will have until Saturday at 4 PM EST to activate Stewart for Sunday’s game.
Carolina’s other starting back DeAngelo Williams bruised his right thigh in the second half against Tampa Bay but all indications are that he will also play.
Defensive tackle Dwan Edwards is optimistic about returning to the field this weekend after missing the last five games with a hamstring injury.
The Cats D is holding opposing teams to just 79.3 ypg, second best in the NFL while also just giving up 13.7 ppg among the best in the league.
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