FLOWERY BRANCH — Here are three matchups to watch when the the Falcons face the Panthers at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the season opener:
Panthers WR Adam Thielen vs. Falcons CB Tre Flowers: Thielen, a two-time Pro Bowler, signed after he was released by the Vikings. The exquisite route-runner caught 70 passes for 716 yards last season for a career-low average of 10.2 yards per catch. Flowers, a converted safety, is set to start with Jeff Okudah out injured. He’s been working with the first-team defense. He has made 41 NFL starts, had four interceptions and 20 pass breakups in previous stops with the Seahawks and Bengals.
Panthers S Xavier Woods vs. Falcons TE Kyle Pitts: Pitts is looking to return to his rookie form after his numbers dipped last season. He caught 68 of 110 targets for 1,026 yards and a touchdown as rookie with Matt Ryan at quarterback. Last season, he caught 28 of 59 targets for 356 yards and two touchdowns over 11 games with Marcus Mariota at quarterback.
Panthers LB Shaq Thompson vs. Falcons RB Bijan Robinson: Thompson is the unquestioned leader of the defense. He has registered more than 100 tackles in each of the past four seasons, with a career-high 135 last season. Robinson is set to make his NFL debut, and the Falcons hope he is a mismatch for most linebackers in the passing game.
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