By the numbers: Panthers vs. Falcons (2.0)
The Carolina Panthers have already clinched a spot in the playoffs, but the team has one final test before postseason play begins — a trip to Atlanta to face the NFC South rival Falcons with plenty of playoff implications on the line.?
Carolina defeated Atlanta 20-17 at Bank of America Stadium in Week 9, and a win on Sunday would give the Panthers a series sweep against the Falcons for the first time since the 2013 season.
Win or lose on Sunday, the Panthers can finish no worse that the No. 5 seed in the NFC playoffs. But with a victory and some help, Carolina is still in play to win the NFC South division and could finish as high as No. 2 in the playoff bracket.
A win or Seattle Seahawks loss will clinch the final wildcard spot for the Falcons, which would place three NFC South teams in the playoffs for the first time in NFL history.
Here’s a look at the significant numbers between the Panthers and Falcons leading up to Sunday’s contest:
The Panthers have four possible playoff scenarios, but it’s more than likely Carolina will be playing on wildcard weekend.
Carolina can win the NFC South division with a victory against Atlanta and a Saints loss to the Buccaneers.
No. 2 seed (first-round bye) – Panthers win, New Orleans loss to Tampa Bay, Los Angeles loss to San Francisco and Minnesota loss to Chicago
No. 3 seed – Panthers win, Saints loss and either a Vikings or Rams loss.
No. 4 seed – Panthers win, Saint loss; Vikings and Rams win will secure spot for Carolina.
No. 5 seed – Panthers loss OR Saints win
Five Falcons players played collegiately in the Carolinas:
Vic Beasley, LB – Clemson<br /> Grady Jarrett, DT - Clemson<br /> Justin Hardly, WR – East Carolina<br /> Andre Roberts, WR – The Citadel<br /> Deji Olatoye, CB – N.C. A&T
The Panthers have recorded 14 takeaways in the last eight weeks, including 10 in the last three games – six fumble recoveries and four interceptions.
Second-year cornerbacks James Bradberry and Daryl Worley have grabbed two interceptions apiece, and veteran defensive end Julius Peppers has garnered two fumble recoveries in the last three weeks.
Atlanta All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones ranks third in the NFL with 1,364 yards, only behind Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown and Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins.
Jones has tallied only three touchdown grabs, his lowest output since grabbing two scores in his injury shortened season in 2015.
This season, Jones has tallied only four 100-yard receiving games, but one came against the Panthers in Week 9.
Jones hauled in six catches for 118 yards, but the sure-handed wideout dropped a would-be touchdown for Atlanta in the latter stages of the contest.
A win on Sunday will give the Panthers’ their fourth 12-win season in franchise history. Carolina advanced to the NFC Championship in 1996 and lost in the divisional round in both 2008 and 2013.
With a loss, Carolina will clinch its third 11-win season. The Panthers have reached at least the NFC Championship game in each previous season. Carolina fell to New England in Super Bowl XXXVIII and dropped the NFC title game to Seattle two years later in 2005.
Atlanta ranks first in the league with a third down efficiency rate of 45.3 percent. Carolina previously held the top spot, but the Panthers are currently converting 42.5 percent of their third downs.
Carolina and Atlanta will meet for the 46th time since 1995 on Sunday. The Falcons have owned the teams’ regular season series with a 27-18 mark.
The Panthers are 7-16 on the road all-time against Atlanta, but Carolina is 3-1 in regular season finales on the Falcons’ home turf.
Greg Olsen needs one touchdown catch to tie former Panthers’ standout Wesley Walls (54) for ninth all-time among National Football League tight ends.
Rookie running back Christian McCaffrey has made a name for himself in the Panthers’ passing attack. The first-year pro is tied with New Orleans’ Alvin Kamara with a league-high 75 catches among rookie running backs.
McCaffrey’s broke former Panthers’ wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin’s rookie mark of 73 catches with two catches last week against Tampa Bay.
Carolina leads the NFL with the fewest penalties (78) and penalty yards (647).
The Panthers are the only team that remain under the 80-plus penalty threshold. Tennessee (83 – 870) and Baltimore (86 – 702) round out the top three in the league. Green Bay ranks second in the NFC with 88 penalties and 721 penalty yards assessed.
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