ATLANTA FALCONS (4-3) AT CAROLINA PANTHERS (5-3)
SERIES HISTORY: 45th regular-season meeting. Falcons lead series, 27-17. The Falcons won both games last season, 48-33 in Atlanta and 33-16 in Charlotte.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Panthers traded Kelvin Benjamin in order to get rookie speedster Curtis Samuel on the field. Teams have been stacking the box to slow Carolina's running game, and the Panthers are looking to throw the ball deep to make teams pay. It could be a productive approach vs. the Falcons -- cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford were beaten on deep passes last week against the New York Jets.
The Panthers also have found that returning to a ball-control offense with time-consuming drives has provided big payoffs. If they can continue to crank out some of those possessions that last more than 10 plays, they could be in good shape.
That also would keep Falcons QB Matt Ryan off the field. The Falcons' offense has not been as high-flying this season as it was in 2016, but Ryan and company have shown signs of breaking out. The Falcons are bound to test Carolina's young cornerbacks early, so the Panthers need to be up to that challenge.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Falcons QB Matt Ryan vs. Panthers LB Luke Kuechly. These are two of the most notable former Boston College players in the NFL. Kuechly has been back for a full game and leads the Panthers with two interceptions this season. Ryan has been up and down, with his six interceptions thrown already one shy of his 2016 total. Expect Kuechly to try to be a factor in Carolina's coverages.
--Falcons LT Jake Matthews vs. Panthers DE Julius Peppers. The Falcons have done a decent job of protecting Ryan but will face a stiff test from the Panthers. Peppers, 37, still has some gas left in the tank; he has 7.5 sacks in a designated pass-rushing role. He can still turn the corner and make days miserable for quarterbacks.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Falcons DT Ahtyba Rubin. Rubin played 21 of 61 (34 percent) of the defensive snaps against the Jets. He played mostly on run downs and came up with two tackles. The 310-pound veteran was stout in the middle of the defense and helped in the defensive tackle rotation. Grady Jarrett and Dontari Poe both played 47 snaps (77 percent).
FAST FACTS: Falcons QB Matt Ryan has 1,086 passing yards (362 per game), seven TDs and one interception for a 131.1 passer rating in the past three meetings. In the past three games on the road against division rivals, he has 861 passing yards (287 per game), eight TDs and no interceptions for a 128.4 passer rating. He has thrown a TD pass in 26 consecutive games, the NFL's longest active streak. He also has 200 passing yards in 62 consecutive games, the longest streak in NFL history. ... RB Devonta Freeman is tied for third in the NFL with five rushing TDs. He has a rushing TD in two of the past three meetings. In the past seven games on the road against the NFC South, he has 805 scrimmage yards (115 per game) and four TDs (two rushing, two receiving). ... LB Vic Beasley Jr. has two sacks and a forced fumble in four career meetings. Since 2016, he ranks second in the NFC with 18.5 sacks. ... Panthers QB Cam Newton has 17 passing TDs and six rushing TDs in 12 career meetings. He aims for his third game in a row at home with a rushing TD. ... RB Jonathan Stewart had a rushing TD last week. He has seven TDs in his past eight games against NFC South opponents. ... DE Julius Peppers had a sack and a forced fumble in Week 8. He has 151 career sacks and surpassed Hall of Famer Chris Doleman (150.5) for the fourth-most sacks all-time. He has two sacks and a fumble recovery in the past three meetings.
PREDICTION: This game comes down to how the Panthers' DBs can match up with the Falcons' receivers, something at which they failed frightfully last year. The guess here is that last week's rally in the rainy Meadowlands might have, at least for now, sparked a Falcons' revival.
OUR PICK: Falcons, 27-24.