Five Things To Watch: Panthers at Falcons

1. ANOTHER DEFENSIVE REBOUND? When the Panthers gave up a season-high 38 points against the Saints, they rebounded with a shutout against the Falcons the following week.

After giving up 35 points to the Giants, 28 of them in the second half, the Panthers are determined to rebound positively against the division-rival Falcons yet again.

Atlanta finally snapped a six-game losing streak with a 23-17 victory over the Jaguars last week. The 23 points scored was the highest total for the Falcons since Week 5.

"We have a lot to play for," safety Roman Harper said. "We have to start fast, continue to play through the whole game and keep the emotions high. We have to go out there and have some juice to kick it off with the right attitude."

2. NORMAN'S RESPONSE: You can expect Josh Norman to bring the energy Harper is looking for. Carolina's Pro Bowl cornerback is coming off a widely discussed emotional battle against Giants wideout Odell Beckham, Jr. and he won't back down against Julio Jones and the Falcons.

"I'm an aggressive style player, I'm physical in my approach," Norman said.

Atlanta wide receiver Roddy White openly questioned Norman's toughness earlier in the week and Norman laughed off the criticism.

"If you don't have haters, you're not popping," Norman said. "I must be doing my job very, very well."

3. NEWTON RIDING HOT STREAK: Everyone around the country is eager to see what quarterback Cam Newton is going to do next.

Here are the quarterback's passing stats so far in the month of December: 936 yards, 13 touchdowns, one interception.

Sunday marks his annual homecoming to Atlanta, where he's always looking to put on a show. If the Falcons want to end Carolina's undefeated season, they'll need to figure out a way to contain Newton, who has looked unstoppable in recent weeks.

4. MORE OPPORTUNITIES FOR ARTIS-PAYNE: Rookie running back Cameron Artis-Payne performed well in his first extended action of the season last week at New York, and he's in line for more work with Jonathan Stewart ruled out again.

Artis-Payne had just four carries in the first half against the Giants but finished with a team-high 14 rushes for 59 yards.

"Do I expect him to be in a little earlier this week? Probably," head coach Ron Rivera said. "A lot of it is going to depend on the flow. (Offensive coordinator) Mike Shula is going to call the game accordingly."

5. PANTHERS' PASS RUSH PRESENCE: The Giants game was the first time all season Carolina failed to record a sack.

"We can do a better job in some areas," defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said of the pass rush. "That goes for not only the pass rush, but for all of us. We can do a better job in certain situations."

The pass rush is always a priority for the Panthers, who sacked Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan five times in Week 14. They'll look to replicate that success Sunday.


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