Football

Who will win a Panthers-Falcons game overloaded with injuries?

Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly (59) sacked Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan in 2017. The Panthers who are 6-17 in team history at Atlanta, square off against the Falcons Sunday.
Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly (59) sacked Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan in 2017. The Panthers who are 6-17 in team history at Atlanta, square off against the Falcons Sunday. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

I’m not sure I can remember more of a “walking wounded” situation in a Week 2 game than this one.

This feels more like Week 15, when every NFL team is holding itself together with baling wire and duct tape. But Week 2? Geez. For both Carolina and Atlanta this season, the injuries have come hard and fast.

On Sunday, Carolina will have to field an offensive line that has been almost entirely remade on the fly because of one massive injury after another. A half-season here; a half-season there — the number of games these guys will miss has become almost numbing. And they also won’t have tight end Greg Olsen, who hurt his foot again in Week 1 after missing most of last year with a foot injury. That is arguably Carolina’s biggest loss of all so far.

But the Falcons have not been immune, either. You could make the argument they have lost their two best defensive players — safety Keanu Neal and linebacker Deion Jones — to significant injuries. It was Jones, remember, who once made Cam Newton pay for slowing up and showboating on a two-point conversion in Atlanta by giving the quarterback a concussion.

Without Neal and Jones, it should be easier for Carolina to run the ball — and the Panthers likely have to run for at least 150 yards to win this game. Then again, does the Panthers’ offensive line have enough left to open the holes?

There was a funny moment in the Panthers locker room this week when a TV reporter mentioned to wide receiver Devin Funchess that something was “ancillary.”

Funchess, who’s a smart guy but didn’t know that particular word, asked the reporter to both repeat it and define it. Then the wide receiver laughed and said: “I left college for a reason, baby.”

However this game turns out, the Panthers already know they are going to play an undefeated team in their next game. Cincinnati (2-0) is averaging 34 points per game and bested Baltimore on Thursday night. So Cincinnati has a 10-day break between games before the Bengals have to come to Charlotte in the battle of the Queen Cities.

Prediction time. I am 1-0 on the season after picking Carolina to win at home against Dallas. This game will be much tougher for Carolina. The Falcons have dominated Carolina in Atlanta, winning 17 of 23 previous matchups there.

It would take dominant efforts from Newton and linebacker Luke Kuechly to pull this one off — plus a little more help from an ancillary player such as rookie tight end Ian Thomas. It could happen. But ultimately, I think the Falcons will win at home like they usually do. My pick: Atlanta 27, Carolina 23.

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