Everyone likes to use a popular catch phrase for a game pitting a seemingly strong team against a weaker one. For the stronger team they call it a trap game. The term is thrown around just about every week in the NFL, and for good reason.
Teams can sometimes take an opponent too much for granted because of a variety of reasons, including their poor record, amount of injuries to key players or a losing streak.
With a 10-2 Atlanta team traveling to a 1-11 Carolina squad, the signs in this I-85 rivalry could spell t-r-a-p. But this current Falcons team isn't built that way and doesn't plan to take a detour down that particular highway.
"You can't talk about their record, what happened last week or what happened in the previous weeks really has no bearing on how the game is going to be played this week," Falcons head coach Mike Smith said. "The dynamics of each game take on its own meaning on that Sunday. They've played some very tough games. Every time we've played the Carolina Panthers, it's come down to a possession or two deciding who's going to be the winner."
Last season, the Panthers defeated the Birds 28-19 in Charlotte. During their 11-5 playoff-bound campaign in 2008, Carolina also prevailed 24-9 in the Queen City. QB Matt Ryan is searching for his first win in this series on the road and he knows what the right mindset should be this weekend.
"The major concern is that we are 12 games into it and we've put ourselves in a really good position," Ryan said. "It's important for us to take care of this next one."
Coach Smith's troops have fallen in line and are approaching this game the same way as their leader. Smith has hammered home to his club to prepare every week like it's the most important game on the schedule and don't go peering down at any future games. His leaders on the team have taken that message to the locker room. And it's sinking in.
The Falcons know if they fall off course, the other big wins against Baltimore, Green Bay and Tampa will be wasted.
The bottom line for the Birds is simple: Take care of your own business one week at a time. The rest will take care of itself.