This year's Dirty Birds are 4-0 and on a roll. With a three game lead on the inconsistent Panthers and Bucs, and a 4 game lead on the winless Saints, many are predicting the division race as being over. Atlanta has certainly shown that their high-powered offense and now ferocious defense should be feared in the NFL. While they could sew things up further into the season, here is why I give them a Lee Coroso "not so fast my friend" right now.
- -Three of their four wins have come against the AFC West. Yes the majority of them were dominating wins, though in the end they had to fight to hold on against the Broncos at home. Even so the AFC West is a division where last year's the winner finished with an 8-8 record, 2 measly games ahead of the 2011 Panthers.
- -It took two freak plays at home (Newton fumble, Haruki abomination) to edge out their only other opponent, the then 1-2 Panthers. Some pass protection and run defending issues were exposed in this one.
- -The only division game they have played yet was a squeaker at home. They still have to go on the road 3 times within the NFC South. Conversely the Panthers have already played all 3 divisional opponents once to the tune of 1-2, and get the two teams to which they lost at home this time around.
- -I believe all of those division games could still be tough, especially the road ones. The Bucs style of play is designed to keep them in games against offensive teams like the Falcons. I wouldn't count out Drew Brees just yet, and of course the Panthers will still have a chip on their shoulder this time around with the game in Charlotte.
- -They still have to play the NFC East. Scheduling works out so they get the Giants at home this time after the playoff game debacle last year, but it still should be a very tough game. Their final non-divisional road tests are against the Redskins, Eagles, and Lions; teams who could present somewhat of a challenge.
This post was not made to disparage the Falcons, as they have a potent team on both sides of the ball and are currently undefeated. They likely will be favored to win a good portion of the rest of their games. My intent is to keep optimism alive, even if but for another week. Even so, the preseason favorites to win the division have certainly come out swinging, and it remains to be seen if the Panthers can consistently hang in there to win close games.
- -As ugly as the Bucs game was, the Panthers were still mathematically only one patented big play away from taking the lead.
- -Even if they are winless, getting over the hump against the Saints was huge, plus it counts as a division win. In that game the defense DID show they could seal a game and prevent a game winning TD drive against a star QB (I'm sure Rivera was thinking about this in ATL)
- -The Giants game was against the Super Bowl champs when everyone got emotionally invested in the wrong way-- just flush it.
- -As heartbreaking as the Atlanta loss was, it took 2 freak plays for them to get the win, at home.
Last year we showed that we are a second-half of the season team, so keep your heads up Panther fans. Of course if we screw around and lose on Sunday while they get the win, forget everything I ever said.