5 things to know before tonight’s Falcons-Panthers kickoff

12/31/2017 -- Atlanta, GA, - Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey (22) is tackled by Atlanta Falcons middle linebacker Deion Jones (45) during the second half of the game at Mercedes Benz Stadium, Sunday, December 31, 2017. The Atlanta Falcons beat the Carolina Panthers, 22-10.  ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM
12/31/2017 -- Atlanta, GA, - Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey (22) is tackled by Atlanta Falcons middle linebacker Deion Jones (45) during the second half of the game at Mercedes Benz Stadium, Sunday, December 31, 2017. The Atlanta Falcons beat the Carolina Panthers, 22-10. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Credit: ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJ

Credit: ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJ

Here are five things to know before tonight’s Falcons (1-6) at Panthers (3-4) kickoff at 8:20 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte:

1. McCaffrey is out? The rematch between the Falcons as the Panthers will have some added star power in the form of wide receiver Julio Jones. Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey will not play, according to The Associated Press.

Jones and McCaffrey missed the first game Oct. 11.

Jones, who’s battling a hamstring and hip injury, is cleared and not listed on the game report, while McCaffrey’s status was up in the air. He returned to practice this week, but was not activated Wednesday.

2. McKinley is out. Falcons defensive end Takk McKinley, who’s battled through a groin injury for most of the season, was declared out Wednesday.

Also, defensive line/tackles coach Jess Simpson, who tested positive for COVID-19, will not travel to the game.

McKinley started Sunday against the Lions, but played only five snaps in the previous four games after he was injured against Dallas on Sept. 20.

McKinley played 23 of 62 defensive snaps (37%) against the Lions and had only one tackle.

McKinley was drafted in the first round (26th overall) of the 2017 draft. He has finished with six sacks in 2017, seven in 2018 and 3.5 last season. He has one sack this season.

McKinley, who played at UCLA, had his $10.3 million fifth-year option turned down by the club this offseason and was looking to have a big season going into free agency.

Teams have inquired about trading for McKinley. The NFL’s trading deadline is Tuesday.

3. Series history: This will be the 52nd meeting. The Falcons led the series 32-19. The Falcons won the previous five games before losing this season 23-16 on Oct. 11. That was coach Dan Quinn’s last game as the head coach.

4. Where to watch, listen and stream. The game will be on Fox Sports/NFL Network/Amazon with Joe Buck handling the play-by-play and Troy Aikman with the color analysis and Kristina Pink and Erin Andrews as the field reporters.

5. Three key matchups: Here are the three key matchups to watch:

Falcons RT/LT Kaleb McGary and Jake Matthews vs. Panthers DE Brian Burns: In the previous game, Burns had a key sack-strip in the second quarter that led to their late rally and a 20-7 halftime lead. On the play, H-back Luke Stocker was late coming over to block Burns, who was lined up at left defensive end. He’ll move around and see both tackles. Matthews gave up a key sack-strip against Detroit’s Romeo Okwara in the fourth. Detroit converted the turnover into a field goal and took a 16-14 lead. Burns had sack-strips against the Chargers and Saints coming from right defensive end. “He’s becoming a dominant pass-rusher,” Panthers coach Matt Rhule said. “The thing that I love is that he’s also trying to turn himself into an every-down player. I think that’s the secret sauce there. When you can be a great pass-rusher and still play the run, you can be one of the special ones. Brian has all of the tools. He’s got the right mindset. He’s seeing some of the fruits of his labor right now.”

Falcons RB Todd Gurley vs. Panthers LB Shaq Thompson: The Falcons need to stay on their blocks longer in the run game. Gurley has ran hard with little room to work over the past two games. He rushed 14 times for 121 yards, including a 35-yard touchdown run when the teams met Oct. 11. Gurley’s seven rushing touchdowns are the third most through the first seven games of a season in franchise history. Only Devonta Freeman (nine in 2015) and Michael Turner (eight in 2009) had more. Thompson led the Panthers with 10 tackles in the previous meeting between the teams. He led them with 13 tackles against the Saints on Sunday. Overall, Thompson has 60 tackles on the season.

Falcons TE Hayden Hurst vs. Panthers SLB Jeremy Chinn: Hurst had a career-high six catches for 68 yards against the Lions. In the previous meeting, Hurst was targeted six times, but caught just two passes for eight yards. Chinn, a second-round pick this year from Southern Illinois, has an interception and four pass breakups. He also has 57 tackles, a tackle for loss and a quarterback hit.

Falcons' next four games

Falcons at Panthers at 8:20 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 29

Broncos at Falcons at 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 8

Bye Week

Falcons at Saints at 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 22

Las Vegas Raiders at Falcons at 1 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 29

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