3 key matchups: Panthers vs. Falcons

Panthers WR Steve Smith vs. Falcons CBs Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson: Grimes has been targeted on 26 passes this season, and teams have completed 14 (53.8 percent). Robinson has been targeted 27 times with 21 completions (77.7 percent). Both will be assigned to Smith when he appears on their side of the field. Grimes plays on the left and Robinson on the right. Smith is off to a great start. He has 27 catches for a NFC-leading 609 yards. The Falcons likely will bracket Smith with a safety and cornerback, depending on the down and distance.

Panthers QB Cam Newton vs. Falcons LB Stephen Nicholas: The Falcons had to play containment against Michael Vick earlier this season and used Nicholas mainly and Sean Weatherspoon at times. Newton has 40 rushes for 160 yards and has scored five rushing touchdowns. Nicholas returned to action against Green Bay on Sunday after suffering a calf injury. Against Vick, he had three tackles and forced a fumble while holding the fleet quarterback to 25 yards on six carries.

Panthers DE Charles Johnson vs. Falcons LT Sam Baker: Johnson has four sacks after signing a six-year, $76 million deal in the offseason. Baker has smoothed out his play over the past two games after a rough start. The Falcons tried to sign Johnson, but backed out when the bidding got too high. Johnson spent the first two years of his career learning under former Panther Julius Peppers. After a breakthrough season, he has continued to play well. Baker is playing stronger at the point of attack. Johnson has 12 sacks over his past 12 games.