Carolina (0-1) at Atlanta (1-0)
1 p.m. Sunday, Atlanta, GA
Diggs: Players must know roles
Panthers linebacker Na'il Diggs says not to blame the Panthers' problems on locker room issues.
"We've had training camp, minicamps, summer school for that," Diggs said. "It's not a chemistry issue. It's not an issue. The bottom line is you go out there and play. Are you perfect? No. Do you make all the great plays? No.
"We're not all Julius Peppers and not everybody's a Steve Smith. But you go out there and try to be great. Guys have to play their parts well. It's not a trick, not a science. Just guys being on the same page."
The Panthers seem to be relatively at ease as they head to Atlanta.
Receiver Steve Smith and defensive back Captain Munnerlyn playfully wrestled in the locker room one day and guard Keydrick Vincent asked a gathering of reporters if he could borrow a local grocery store's frequent-customer card - since he didn't have one.
Field position key
The Panthers will not win today if the Falcons get the same kind of field position the Eagles had last week in their 38-10 victory against Carolina. Philadelphia's average field position in its 13 possessions was its own 40. Four drives started inside Panthers territory, including two at the Panthers' 10 and 9.
A trip to the Georgia Dome is not necessarily a bad thing for the Panthers. Although they are 4-10 all-time in Atlanta and lost there 45-28 last season, the Panthers had won three in a row in the Georgia Dome from 2005-07.
Think the Falcons noticed last week how easily the Eagles got to Carolina's quarterbacks? Atlanta will try to bring similar pressure to Jake Delhomme today. Atlanta defensive end John Abraham (South Carolina) had two sacks last week. Two goals for Carolina today: Better protection for Delhomme, who must get rid of the ball more quickly.
Delhomme vs. Atlanta
Delhomme has generally liked to see the Falcons show up on the schedule. Although he has had a few clunkers against the Falcons in 10 career starts, Delhomme has usually played well against them. Last season, he threw for 589 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in two games against Atlanta. And in 2007 - the game that ended his season with an elbow injury - he had already thrown two touchdown passes against the Falcons before leaving in the third quarter.
That's Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan's nickname, and he's quickly become one of the NFL's best young players. As a rookie last season, Ryan stepped in, helping the franchise move past the Michael Vick embarrassment. He manages a game in a style well beyond his years and has a strong, accurate arm. The much-maligned Panthers defense gets another stern test from Ryan, as well as running back Michael Turner.
1 Time in team history the same offensive line has started consecutive season openers (2008 and 2009).
1 Player from Charlotte to appear in regular-season game for Panthers (receiver Kenneth Moore last week).
3 Georgia natives on roster (John Kasay, Thomas Davis, Charles Johnson) headed home to play today.
82 Passing yards allowed last week against Philadelphia, lowest in the NFL.
169 Yards gained last week -lowest in the NFL.
4 Strength of schedule ranking this season (Panthers are second).
15 Rank of QB Matt Ryan's jersey sales among NFL players worldwide
88 Score Ryan recently shot at Augusta National Golf Club.
376 Carries last season by running back Michael Turner, most in NFL.
1966 Year of their inaugural team, which they will honor today by wearing throwback uniforms.
I've already gone on record this week saying that "Good Jake" will make a reappearance today. I don't see Jake Delhomme having three nightmares in a row.
Of course many of you don't believe that: my column expressing that opinion this week drew more than 200 comments.
Most of them were of the "You're the worst writer in the history of the world" variety. There was some variance, however - I also got a lot of "You actually get paid to write that junk?"
OK, so there wasn't a lot of variance.
**I still believe Delhomme isn't done, however, and I don't think he will lose this game today on his own.
With that said, Delhomme is only one of the Panthers' concerns today. Atlanta stands as the favorite to win the NFC South this season: the Falcons have top-notch skill players, a sound philosophy and an emerging defense.
**Steve Smith and DeAngelo Williams are speedsters, and as such they always look faster on artificial turf like that in the Georgia Dome. I expect both to have far better games than they did in that 38-10 pounding Philadelphia laid on the Panthers in Week 1.
**I have always liked the Falcons-Panthers series, in part because it seems to be high on the weirdness factor. That started in Carolina's first-ever game - an overtime loss at Atlanta in 1995 in which Dom Capers wanted to go for a game-winning two-pointer at the end of regulation, only to be undone by an offensive tackle's false start.
My prediction today: Atlanta 27, Carolina 23.