Reggie Roberts: What kind of game are you expecting on Sunday when the Falcons and Panthers get together at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday?
Steve Reed: It will be two NFC South rivals, so it regardless of record, it’s going to be a tough game. The Panthers had the Falcons on the ropes in Week 4 and by all rights really should have won the game. But Cam Newton’s fumble proved critical and the Falcons pulled it out. I think the game set the tone for the Panthers, who have lost close games all season. As for the Falcons, winning breeds winning and they’ve flourished this season, their confidence growing with each passing week. Although the teams seem headed in different directions, I expected a hard-fought, close game.
RR: Over the past few games, Panthers QB Cam Newton has displayed the form that helped earn him rookie of the year honors in 2011. What do you attribute that to?
SR: The Panthers have simplified things after the bye week and taken some things off Newton’s plate. That has helped. I think Year 2 is tough on a quarterback because defensive coordinators have a chance to go back and study you on tape. I think teams adjusted to Newton. He’s finally adjusting to things and starting to take steps in the right direction.
RR: Let’s talk about the Falcons, winners of the NFC South Division in two of the past three seasons. Are the Falcons good enough to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl this season?
SR: Most definitely. I’ve been impressed with them all season and in my mind they are the favorites to represent the NFC. But as history has shown, it’s generally the team that starts to get over this last month of the season that tends to win it all. We’ll see if the Falcons can keep up that momentum and not have a letdown after winning the division. Winning the division going away can be a blessing and a curse.
RR: Give us your take on what’s going on in Washington with RGIII. The Redskins have won three in a row and are now in the thick of the NFC postseason discussion. Can they get to the playoffs?
SR: They’re a talented team and they still have a shot. But I think they will fade down the stretch. That said, RGIII is definitely the real thing.
RR: What’s your take on who the best team in the NFL is right now?
SR: I think right now you have to say the Falcons. I think the NFC overall is tougher and there are four teams that really can win it all — Atlanta, San Francisco, Green Bay and the New York Giants. The Falcons have played better and more consistently than anyone in the league. They’re loaded on offense and their defense has brought up their intensity as the season has progressed.
RR: Is Peyton Manning the hands-down winner for come-back-player of the year award for 2012?
SR: I think he has to be. He’s been outstanding and has the Broncos playing at a very high level. I wondered how that John Fox-Peyton Manning duo would work, but they’ve mixed well together. I know he won’t get a lot of publicity, but there is a guy here in Carolina who should deserve some credit too — LB Thomas Davis. He’s come from not one, not two, but three torn ACLs and his playing well here. He won’t win it because he doesn’t play quarterback, but it’s remarkable since no NFL player has come back from three torn ACLs to play in the NFL.
RR: And finally, give us your prediction for Sunday’s Panthers-Falcons game.
SR: I think it’s going to be closer than people think. But the Panthers just haven’t figured out how to win games. Atlanta 24, Carolina 21.