The ball is everything
As it's been every game this season, the ball will play a major rule in Saturday's outcome. Currently, Atlanta is plus-eight in the turnover margin and Carolina is plus-1.
Similar to the Falcons, the Panthers' roster is full of playmakers who possess a real regard for the football. Carolina has created 22 takeaways this season, three more than Atlanta.
"Historically, these guys have been one of the best," head coach Dan Quinn said of Carolina's ball-hawking ability. "They have a number of ball-hawks defensively and they are now in the plus from a turnover margin [standpoint] for their season, and we are too. They've found their rhythm."
The Falcons are 8-4 when plus or even in the turnover margin.
Win in the trenches
The Falcons are anticipating a tough, physical battle with the Panthers and it will all start in the trenches.
Carolina's defense ranks No. 6 against the run, allowing only 90.2 yards per game.
For Atlanta, it all starts with the ground game, as seen last week when the team rushed for 248 yards.
How well the Falcons' offensive line protects Matt Ryan will also be a factor. Carolina's 39 sacks on the season are the second most in the NFL.
"Carolina's defense is downhill," Quinn said. They are aggressive in the run. For us, that combined with the they are leading the league in sacks, well the line of scrimmage had better be a factor. So how do you stop that? Our line of scrimmage, the mixture of runs, play-actions and completions is going to be really important."
Defend their weapons
Saturday's game features several intriguing matchups all over the field.
Both of these teams are extremely familiar with one another and have said that records get thrown out in the month of December.
The last time Carolina and Atlanta squared off, the Falcons were able to get going early offensively and limited the production of the Panthers' offensive weapons. Carolina is coming off a big win over Washington on Monday Night Football where RB Jonathan Stewart and Greg Olsen shined.
"They have big play ability," Quinn said. "We are going to have to be really discipline in our game knowing [they] have weapons at each position. Stewart is one, Newton is one, Olsen is one, Benjamin is one. They have a big playbook. Our run and hit factor is going to be alive. Sometimes you have to hit your way through some problem."
Cover units will play a role
Both the Falcons and Panthers have players who run and hit, making for starting field position to be that much more important this weekend.
"They are good from an opponent field position start in terms of the way they cover," Quinn said. "Both teams can really run, so we are going to make sure that part stays alive."