STORYLINES: Panthers miss Greg Hardy

Can the Falcons end their stretch of four consecutive games away from the Georgia Dome on a high note? Since playing the Chicago Bears at home Oct. 12, the Falcons have been the road warriors of the NFL. They are 1-2 on their long stretch of road games, which included a “home” game across the pond in London. They need a victory over the Panthers to position themselves for a push in the meek NFC South.

Can the Falcons slow rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin? The Falcons have had trouble with big receivers in recent games. They let Chicago’s Alshon Jeffery break free for a 74-yard touchdown, and rookie Mike Evans had seven catches for 125 yards and a touchdown last week. The Falcons must contend with Benjamin, who has 43 catches for 659 yards and seven touchdowns. “He’s coming along very well,” Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. “He’s doing a nice job. It’s a lot of fun watching Kelvin Benjamin out there grow and develop as a football player.”

Who’s going to keep the Panthers pass rush from sacking Matt Ryan? With Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy playing, the Panthers have unleashed a relentless pass rush over the past three meetings with the Falcons. Johnson is getting a lot of attention with Hardy out on the exempt/Commissioner’s list because of a domestic-violence case. The Panthers dearly miss Hardy. “He’s a guy that impacts the way that people approach you,” Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. “People must game-plan for him and do certain things with protections. It would help to have him. We don’t. So, unfortunately, we go on and do the best that we can without him.”

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