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Predictions & Projections
David Dorey
Player Projections by Team
Game Predictions Summary
The Huddle
September 6, 2006
Season Ticket
Sunday Late
Sunday night
BAL at TB NO at CLE     SD at OAK

Prediction: ATL 17, CAR 27

Atlanta (8-8) comes into the 2006 season after a three game losing skid to end last year and miss the playoffs. The Panthers (11-5) made it all the way to the NFC Championship before running out of gas and are considered to be one of the favorites to return to the championship game again this year.

The Panthers swept the Falcons in 2005, winning 24-6 in week 13 and then again 44-11 in week 17.

Atlanta Falcons (0-0)
1 --- @CAR 10 --- CLE
2 --- TB 11 --- @BAL
3 --- @NO 12 --- NO
4 --- ARZ 13 --- @WAS
5 Open Bye 14 --- @TB
6 --- NYG 15 --- DAL
7 --- PIT 16 --- CAR
8 --- @CIN 17 --- @PHI
9 --- @DET - MON SAT
ATL at CAR Rush Catch Pass
QB Michael Vick 40 0 160,1
RB Warrick Dunn 60 10 0
RB Jerious Norwood 30,1 10 0
TE Alge Crumpler 0 60,1 0
WR Ashley Lelie 0 20 0
WR Michael Jenkins 0 20 0
WR Roddy White 0 40 0
PK Michael Koenen 1 FG 2 XP -
Pregame Notes: The Falcons enter the 2006 season with just one big change offensively. They traded away T.J. Duckett to the Redskins and received Ashley Lelie from the Broncos in the three player trade. The directive last year that Vick should try to pass more and run less had less than spectacular results since they only ended 8-8 on the year and Vick was no better at connecting with his wideouts.

Quarterback: Michael Vick ended his fifth season in the NFL with only 2412 passing yards and 15 touchdowns against 13 interceptions. That's been about his norm when he can last for 15 games in a season which he has done three times and yet has never managed to last for that magical 16th game yet. Matt Schaub backs him up with one of the better second string quarterbacks in the league and can be considered perhaps the only "change of pace" quarterback in the league.

In week 13 of 2005, Vick had 171 passing yards and 36 rushing yards with two interceptions and later in week 17, Vick only had 115 passing yards since he only played for half the game.

Running Backs: The Falcons allowed T.J. Duckett to be traded and with him goes six short yardage rushing scores from last year. Duckett was ineffective down the stretch in 2005 and that prompted the Falcons to acquire Jerious Norwood in the NFL draft. They were so impressed with Norwood that Duckett became expendable. With Warrick Dunn now 31 years old, getting the next generation of Falcon tailbacks was a good idea though Dunn ended 2005 with a career high 1416 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Unless the surprisingly durable Dunn wears down, this year should be similar to 2005 with Norwood taking over the Duckett role and likely getting more playing time with Dunn.

Dunn ran for 80 yards in Carolina last year but only had 29 yards in the week 17 game due to sitting out the second half. He never scored against the Panthers last year.

Wide Receivers: The Falcons start out the season with a formidable wideout crew if you use the NFL draft as criteria. Michael Jenkins, Roddy White and Ashley Lelie were all high draft picks and would likely shine on a team that actually uses the position for more than downfield blocking on a Vick run. Roddy White was a pleasant surprise as a rookie last year and ended with 29 catches for 446 yards and three touchdowns while Michael Jenkins had 36 catches for 508 yards and three scores as well. Granted - pretty pedestrian compared to most any other NFL team but that was actually a step up from 2004. Ashley Lelie will start as a slot player where the team can use his deep speed in conjunction with the one pass that Vick throws well - just really far down the field and hope someone runs under it.

Roddy White had the season best game against the Panthers but that was only 47 yards and one score with Schaub throwing the ball.

Tight Ends: Alge Crumpler led the Falcons last year with 65 receptions for 877 yards - 4th best of any tight end in the NFL last year. He's the main target for Vick and should be no less productive this year with a brutal schedule looming.

Crumpler had 52 yards on three catches in week 13 against the Panthers.

Match Against the Defense: The Falcons always had problems against the Panthers last year and the added aspect of Vick running does not affect the Panthers much by now. The only position that the Panthers did not rank in the top 10 against was wideout and that just doesn't much exist for the Falcons anyway.

Figure first game out in Carolina to be a tough defensive match-up that should see Dunn gain some marginal yardage on the ground but not score. It will be interesting to see how Norwood is used since his size will be useful against the aggressive Carolina defense but it's obviously too early to tell if there is any fantasy value there yet. For a first game of the season, the Falcons could not have drawn a worse opponent than the Panthers in Carolina. Both teams know each other too well and the Panthers have more talent across the board.

Carolina Panthers (0-0)
1 --- ATL 10 --- TB
2 --- @MIN 11 --- STL
3 --- @TB 12 --- @WAS
4 --- NO 13 --- @PHI
5 --- CLE 14 --- NYG
6 --- @BAL 15 --- PIT
7 --- @CIN 16 --- @ATL
8 --- DAL 17 --- @NO
9 Open Bye - - MON
CAR vs ATL Rush Catch Pass
QB Jake Delhomme 10 0 180,2
RB DeShaun Foster 100,1 30,1 0
RB DeAngelo Williams 30 10 0
TE Michael Gaines 0 10 0
WR Steve Smith 0 40 0
WR Keary Colbert 0 10 0
WR Keyshawn Johnson 0 60,1 0
PK John Kasay 2 FG 3 XP -

Pregame Notes: The Panthers lasted until the NFC Championship game last year where they were pummeled by the Seahawks 34-14 thanks in no small part to a rushing game that only gained 21 yards by the remaining tailbacks. Delhomme and Steve Smith had a magical season with Smith leading all NFL wideouts in several categories but the running game never worked last year - except when they faced the Falcons and suddenly DeShaun Foster looked like an upper tier back (if only then). With a great defense and the rushing game addressed through the draft, the outlook is bright for a return by the Panthers to the playoffs.

Quarterback: Jake Delhomme fell back a bit from 2004 but he still managed to rack up 3421 passing yards and 24 touchdowns last year thanks in no small part to Steve Smith. Delhomme made a start of Muhsin Muhammad in 2004 and then again with Smith in 2005. Now the Panthers have added Keyshawn Johnson for a legitimate #2 wideout - something that Delhomme has never had the last couple of seasons.

Delhomme had almost mirror games last year when he faced the Falcons, throwing for 164 and 163 yards against them with two scores in each.

Running Backs: DeShaun Foster managed to play in a career high 15 games last year before later breaking his ankle in the playoffs. He still only had two efforts that went over 100 yards on the year. Foster actually had an unspectacular year in 2005 except when he faced the Falcons. Clearly his best two efforts of the season were when he ended with 131 and later 165 rushing yards against Atlanta with a score in each. He never scored against any other regular season opponent and never had more than 75 rushing yards in any regular season game. But the Falcons - that was go time.

The Panthers have added DeAngelo Williams via the NFL draft with their first pick and that brings in the #4 all time rusher in NCAA history (albeit from Conference USA Memphis). Given the lack of durability of Foster and the promise of Williams, the Carolina backfield could be changing this year but to start the season it will be Foster as primary and Williams as just change of pace and as a returner on special teams.

Wide Receivers: What's not to like about Steve Smith who is under-sized and yet plays as big as any wideout in the NFL. He ended 2005 with 1563 yards to lead the league and his 12 touchdowns tied Marvin Harrison for that lead as well. Smith was simply unstoppable in most games despite having almost no help from any other receiver. That should change this year with the addition of Keyshawn Johnson who is on his fourth NFL team during his ten year career. Keyshawn has been little more than a solid possession receiver the last few years but that's much more than has been seen from any #2 in Carolina for three years.

The slot will be sorted out between Drew Carter and Keary Colbert who is looking better in training camp this year. The job is Colbert's to lose but the team likes Carter.

Steve Smith had seven catches for 65 yards and later nine catches for 131 yards with a touchdown in each game against the Falcons. Smith tweaked his hamstring in practice on Tuesday and was held out on Wednesday. He is questionable to play so check your game time actives if you have him on your starting roster.

Tight Ends: The tight ends have done very little for the Panthers under John Fox and that's not likely to change. Michael Gaines has risen into a starting spot but that won't have enough fantasy value to merit consideration.

Match Against the Defense: The Falcon defense was only 28th against running backs last year and that showed when they met the Panthers. Expect Foster to start the year out right in this game at home but we should see just enough of Williams to water Foster down from a big game.

Delhomme never had much passing yardage against the Falcons because he did not need it with the rushing game so effective. With a great defense and what should be solid rushing this week, expect about the same from Delhomme when he has just under 200 yards and a couple of scores. Smith should be a lock to catch one since his hamstring and toe are improved and he'll want to start the year with a bang. There's just as good a chance that either Foster or Williams could score on a reception as well as did Foster last year. With the role that Williams provides a bit undefined for now, that has to be considered to most likely go to Foster.